5 Aug 2004

NGOs try to spare maids from Singapore gallows

Jakarta Post: NGOs try to spare maids from Singapore gallows

NGOs try to spare maids from Singapore gallows
A. Junaidi, Jakarta

Activists from various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) urged the government on Wednesday to take diplomatic measures and legal action to help five Indonesian female housemaids now facing possible death sentences in Singapore.

The activists delivered their demand during a meeting with Indonesia's Ambassador to Singapore Mochamad S. Hidayat and Singaporean defense lawyer Muhammad Muzamil at the office of the National Commission on Violence Against Women (Komnas Perempuan) in Jakarta.

"The government should be more active in using diplomatic pressure and legal measure to save the housemaids," Nurmawati of the Indonesian Migrant Worker Protection Association (PPTKI) said.

Five Indonesian workers are currently facing the possibility of a death sentence in Singapore for separate murders over the last year. They are as Sudarti Supriyanto, Purwanti Parji, Sumiyati Karyo, Juminem and Siti Aminah. They have all been charged with murder, which carries a maximum sentence of death.

The verdict against Sudarti is expected to be issued on May 10, while the remaining four are still being handled by Singaporean police and have yet to reach the courts.

According to Nurmawati, government officials, including those at the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, had paid very little attention to problems faced by Indonesian housemaids there.

Singapore is one of the destination countries for unskilled Indonesian workers, who left the country in a desperate search for work of any kind.

The majority of around 1.3 million Indonesian migrant workers overseas, including 60,000 in Singapore, are women, who on a number of well-publicized occasions, have suffered abuse at the hands of their employers, but even more common is the rampant extortion by Indonesian officials.

Nurmawati said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should use diplomatic channels to spare the housemaids from the gallows, and that President Megawati Soekarnoputri should request the Singaporean government to lighten their sentences.

Many activists from various NGOs, including Migrant Care, Dompet Dhuafa and the Committee for Migrant Workers Protection (Kopbumi) attended the discussion.

Ambassador Mochamad S. Hidayat claimed that the government could not use diplomatic measures while the case was still being heard in the courts.

"We can't interfere in the court system. But after a sentence is handed down, we promise to use diplomatic channels to assist the housemaids," Hidayat.

He admitted that Sudarti's case was very serious as she was charged with murder in the death of her employer and her child, as well as burning her employer's office and robbery.

Sudarti's lawyer Muzamil, who was appointed by both Singaporean and Indonesian governments, said that he would use a self-defense argument to get Sudarti off.

Muzamil revealed that based on the court's hearings, Sudarti had not been given meals by her employers for three days before the murder occurred on June 22, two years ago.

"Her employer was known for being cruel. Another maid also testified that she was tortured by the same employer," he said.

However, he said that although evidence, including a post-mortem examination, showed that Sudarti stabbed her employer to death, the defendant refused to admit it and maintains that her employer committed suicide.

He said Sudarti's mother Binarti has been brought to Singapore to visit her and asked her to admit to the crime in order to save her from death penalty, but so far the defendant still claims that the employer committed suicide.

"Sudarti often tells me that she prefers the death sentence rather than a life sentence," Muzamil said.

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