Thursday, July 12, 2007

Hundreds of RI workers could face death penalty in Malaysia

National News - May 26, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

While it grapples with the problem of large numbers of illegal migrant workers in Malaysia, Indonesia has another labor problem on its hands: 279 of its workers are on death row or facing possible capital charges in the neighboring country.

Manpower and Transportation Minister Erman Suparno said Friday the government had been providing legal assistance to the detained workers, but stressed that there are limits on what Indonesia can do to help.

"The government cannot interfere in the Malaysian judicial system because both countries impose harsh sanctions on such criminal acts," Erman told reporters after signing a memorandum of understanding on good governance with the Development Finance Comptroller here Friday.

He said 95 percent of the detained workers were Indonesians of Acehnese descent who were charged with illegal possession of drugs believed to have been brought from their home villages in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam. Some have been convicted, while others are still under police investigation or face capital charges at federal courts in the neighboring country.

Erman said several Acehnese sentenced to death in drug cases were awaiting execution after their appeals were rejected by the Malaysian Higher Court.

He declined to reveal how much the government had spent to provide legal assistance to the workers, but said his office and the Foreign Affairs Ministry had worked closely to lobby Malaysian authorities to protect the workers' rights and to recruit Malaysian lawyers to accompany them during the police investigation and at court hearings.

In addition, Erman said, several Indonesian migrant workers are on death row in Saudi Arabia for their alleged involvement in murder cases at their workplaces.

Asked about a planned crackdown on Indonesian illegal workers in Malaysia, Erman said he had just held talks with the Malaysian home minister to ensure that Malaysian volunteers will treat undocumented workers humanely.

"Malaysian authorities have agreed to train their volunteers to treat the illegal workers according to the law and to impose harsh sanctions on any volunteers beating and robbing the workers during the operation," he said. He added that his office had also made a similar request of Saudi authorities in their upcoming raids on some 40,000 undocumented Indonesian migrant workers in that country.

Erman said further that Malaysia had agreed to issue ID cards for the Indonesian workers to replace passports that had been kept by their employers, so that the workers could file complaints with authorities if they were abused at their workplaces.

"The Malaysian government has also required Malaysian employers to insure their workers and to comply with the hike in monthly wages to 500 ringgit (US$147) from the previous 380 ringgit," he said.

Meanwhile, workers and activists staged a protest before the Saudi Embassy, demanding the royal government protect the human rights of undocumented Indonesians during the raid, slated to start June 1.

They said Saudi authorities should treat the workers humanely and fairly because their people have taken advantage of the workers.

"The amnesty period should be extended for a few weeks to let the illegals have adequate time to return back home voluntarily and to let them avoid fines and the threat of prison," Migrant Care coordinator Anis Hidayah said.



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