Indonesia protests beheading of domestic worker in Saudi Arabia

PROTEST. Indonesian migrant worker activists wearing black t-shirts, hold placards during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 21 June 2011. File photo by Mast Irham / EPA

PROTEST. Indonesian migrant worker activists wearing black t-shirts, hold placards during a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 21 June 2011.

File photo by Mast Irham / EPA

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Jakarta summoned the Saudi Arabian ambassador Wednesday, April 15, to protest the beheading of an Indonesian domestic worker and complain that her family and consular staff were not given prior notice of the execution.

Saudi authorities said Siti Zainab was executed Tuesday in the Muslim holy city of Medina after being convicted of stabbing and beating Saudi woman Noura al-Morobei to death in 1999.  

Human rights groups have used Zainab's beheading to urge Indonesia to abandon its support for the death penalty, as Jakarta presses ahead with plans to execute several foreigners on death row for drug crimes. (READ: Indonesia court: No new evidence in Mary Jane case)

Indonesia claims the sentence was carried out without Zainab's family and consular officials being given adequate notice before her execution.

"The Indonesian government filed a protest against the Saudi Arabian government for not giving prior notification to Indonesian representatives or to the family over the execution date," Indonesia's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Riyadh's ambassador to Indonesia Mustafa Ibrahim Al-Mubarak said he was "surprised" to be summoned by the foreign ministry but would follow up on Jakarta's concerns.

"The problem is not about the court and the execution, it is about the date of the execution," he told reporters.

"I have to check what went wrong."

Efforts to save Zainab

"From the beginning, the government has struggled to provide her with assistance and has asked the family (of the victim) for forgiveness," the foreign ministry also said. 

Indonesian President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo and three of his predecessors had previously written to the Saudi king asking for the victim's family to forgive Zainab.

Indonesia had also offered to pay diyat, or blood money, amounting to 600 thousand riyals ($160,000).

But Saudi said only the heirs of the victim can cancel the sentence, and Zainab's execution was delayed until the victim's children were old enough to decide whether the punishment should proceed.

In 2013, the heirs of the victim rejected Zainab's apology and demanded the death penalty.

'Abandon death penalty'

Migrant Care, an NGO advocating for the rights of Indonesian workers abroad, condemned the execution and claimed Zainab was acting in self defense against an abusive employer.

The group urged Indonesia to abandon the death penalty "as a first step to push other countries to not impose the death penalty on migrant workers".

Amnesty International noted there are also reports Zainab was suffering from mental illness. “Imposing the death penalty and executing someone with a suspected mental illness smacks of a basic lack of humanity,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Programme Director at Amnesty International.

Jakarta, however, remains determined to execute several drug traffickers – including citizens from Australia, France, Nigeria, Ghana, Brazil and the Philippines – as soon as possible.

Indonesia executed 6 drug offenders in January, including five foreigners, prompting a furious Brazil and the Netherlands – whose citizens were among those put to death – to recall their ambassadors.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Indonesia would proceed with the executions as planned, despite protests over Zainab's case.

"Our commitment is to protect our citizens, that is our priority," she told reporters late Tuesday.

"But there's an issue of law enforcement which we have to enforce domestically."

Amnesty International said the sentence against Zainab was carried out despite suspicions she was mentally ill, adding to what the London-based watchdog calls a "macabre spike" in Saudi executions this year. – Reports from Agence France-Presse and Ata/Rappler.com