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Indonesia urges Saudi justice in maid's abuse case

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The woman is recovering after being severely beaten
  • Sumiati binti Mustapa Salan went to work in Saudi Arabia four months ago
  • She was trying to support her family in a small fishing village in Indonesia
  • Allegations of maid abuse have outraged Indonesians

(CNN) -- Indonesia has urged Saudi Arabia to take legal action against a Saudi employer accused of grossly abusing an Indonesian maid, Indonesian government officials said Thursday.

The 23-year-old woman is recovering in a Saudi hospital after being severely beaten, according to Indonesian consulate officials.

The Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry said Thursday that it had followed up on the case, which has outraged many in Indonesia.

"At first, we already called the Saudi Arabia ambassador here in Jakarta a few days ago to the ministry, and at that occasion we expressed the position of the Indonesian government, which condemns the act, inhumane act, against our nationals," ministry spokesman Michael Tene said.

"We also ask the Saudi government to ensure that they will be responsible for that and take appropriate action according to the law."

Sumiati binti Mustapa Salan went to work in Saudi Arabia four months ago to support her family in a small fishing village in Indonesia.

She was tortured since the first day of her employment in a Medina household, said Didi Wahyudri, Indonesia's citizen protection consul in Saudi Arabia.

"She was beaten badly. But she is recovering," Wahyudri said.

A migrant rights group and Indonesian officials have said Sumiati also suffered from cuts to her face and possibly burns from an iron.

"We are asking for justice," said Wahyudri, who added that Indonesian officials had reported the case to Saudi police.

Sumiati has been hospitalized since November 6 at the King Fahd Hospital in Medina.

CNN was not able to reach Saudi officials for comment. Offices were closed because of Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage.

Sumiati's case is one of several involving Asian migrant workers in Middle Eastern nations that have made headlines in recent months.

Last summer, doctors removed nails that had been hammered into the body of a Sri Lankan maid, allegedly by her Saudi employers.

Human rights groups have expressed alarm about the poor treatment of these workers, though it has been difficult to document abuses of domestic workers that take place behind closed doors in private homes.

A Human Rights Watch report earlier this year said migrant domestic workers often face isolation and forced confinement that contribute to psychological, physical and sexual violence, forced labor and trafficking.

Nisha Varia, a senior researcher for women's rights at Human Rights Watch, said the problem is compounded by the fact that Saudi labor laws do not cover migrant workers and, often in such cases, justice has been slow or non-existent.

"The overall justice system is riddled with problems," Varia said. "It's not good for Saudis. It's much worse for migrant women."

On top of that, once a woman reports a case of abuse, she is then held at a shelter in her nation's embassy until the case is resolved, said Varia, who has visited such shelters in several Middle Eastern nations.

Often, a woman could be held for months, maybe years, without being allowed to work, which deters many women from reporting abuse, Varia said.

Millions of workers from Asian countries travel to the Middle East to make money and shed lives in their homeland that are rooted in poverty.

Sumiati was one of them, according to the Jakarta Globe newspaper. It reported that her parents were unable to support her and her four siblings and in July, after she graduated from high school, Sumiati left for Saudi Arabia with the help of a labor recruiting agency.

A statement from a migrant rights group said Sumiati's abusers ought to be punished. It urged the Indonesian government to take appropriate action on her behalf.

The Indonesian government said it plans to send to Sumiati's uncle to Saudi Arabia to be with her for moral support, the state-run Antara News Agency reported, adding that the government will help bring her back home.

CNN's Moni Basu and Lucia Isman contributed to this report.