After 10 years in Saudi prison, Indonesia maids on death row for witchcraft released

JAKARTA (AFP) - Two Indonesian domestic workers sentenced to death for practising witchcraft against their employers' families in Saudi Arabia returned home on Wednesday (April 24) after their sentences were commuted, Indonesia's Foreign Ministry said.

Sumartini and Warnah, who both have only one name, arrived in Jakarta after serving more than 10 years in a Saudi prison, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, a senior official at the ministry, told Agence France-Presse.

The women were sentenced to death by a court in Riyadh in 2009 but had their punishment reduced in early 2019 after years of negotiation between Jakarta and the oil-rich kingdom.

"After going through a tough negotiation, the embassy managed to convince the Saudi government the women could leave for their homeland," Indonesia's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Agus Maftuh Abegebriel, told AFP.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest execution rates, with those convicted of terrorism, homicide, rape, armed robbery and drug trafficking facing the death penalty.

The country executed 37 people for "terrorism" crimes on Tuesday, bringing the total to over 100 for the year, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

Saudi Arabia's religious police enforce the country's strict interpretation of Islam, which includes arresting people for alleged witchcraft.

Sumartini was accused of making the 17-year-old son of her employer vanish by using black magic, although he was later found alive.

Warnah, meanwhile, was accused of casting a spell against her employer's first wife that made her suffer from mysterious illnesses, Indonesian media reported.

Indonesian activists have been demanding the release of the women for years, and staged street protests during the visit of Saudi king Salman Salman Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud in 2017.

Indonesia has long complained about the treatment of its migrant workers abroad and in 2015 introduced a ban on new domestic workers from entering 21 Middle Eastern countries.

Jakarta filed an official protest with Saudi Arabia after it executed an Indonesian domestic worker without notifying her family or consular staff on October last year.

She was sentenced to death for killing her employer in an act she claimed was self-defence from sexual abuse.