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More Indonesian migrants escape death penalty in Saudi

On January 18, 2012

In what appears to be another last-minute success story from Indonesia’s migrant worker task force, two women have been granted reprieve from death row. One woman had been accused of practicing witchcraft, while the other was convicted of murdering her employer's young child. Both women are scheduled to return to Indonesia on January 19th.

In the first case, the Indonesian Consulate fell into its old habits - failing to intervene in the woman’s case until she had been sentenced death. In receiving no representation or even translation services throughout her trial, Mesi binti Dama Idon underwent a lonely journey in a foreign legal system that had disappeared so many migrants before her. While Indonesia ultimately secured her freedom, the unnerving, lengthy process could have been avoided if litigation assistance was provided from the trial's commencement.

Migrant Care executive director Anis Hidayah has criticized Indonesia’s modus operandi in the past, most recently telling The Jakarta Post that:

Almost all the workers who have avoided beheading in Saudi Arabia had undergone a very long and arduous legal battle. Some of them had actually been imprisoned for more than 10 years [before having their sentences commuted].”

But in what may represent an incremental improvement in the full assumption of responsibility to its overseas citizens, the Indonesian task force provided Neneng Sunengsih with a lawyer, who was able to persuade the courts that there was not enough evidence to convict her. Migrants accused of similar crimes in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to death.

The task force alo announced that seven other Indonesian citizens will soon receive pardons from the King. While Indonesia’s ad-hoc policy is problematic in that it avoids comprehensive legislation changes in Saudi Arabia, these efforts may designate a shift towards more assertive diplomacy.