Indonesia pays nearly S$2.3 million in "blood money" to free maid in Saudi Arabia

Satinah Binti Jumadi Ahmad is on death row for killing her employer in Saudi Arabia

JAKARTA - Migrants' rights activists in Indonesia welcomed on Friday the government's decision to pay $1.8 million (S$2.3 million) to free one of its citizens on death row in Saudi Arabia, just days before she was to be executed for murdering her employer.

Satinah, a 41-year old migrant domestic worker, was convicted of killing her Saudi employer in 2007 but said she had acted in self-defence after her boss allegedly physically abused her. She was sentenced to death by beheading.

"The government can no longer ignore the fact that saving a citizen is the country's responsibility," said Anis Hidayah, executive director of NGO Migrant Care, according to media reports.

The government, which announced its decision on a website on Thursday, had come under fire over Satinah's case after initially saying it could not raise the money in time. Celebrities and activists spearheaded a fundraising campaign.

As allowed by Saudi law, the victim's family had initially demanded $4 million in "blood money" to spare the maid's life, but agreed to lower the amount after years of negotiations with the Indonesian government.

Hundreds of mostly female Indonesian migrant workers go abroad in search of work every year, but often face abusive working conditions in destinations like Malaysia, Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. These workers contribute millions of dollars to the Indonesian economy annually in remittances.

The case of an Indonesian maid beaten by her employer in Hong Kong prompted mass rallies this year and graphic photos of her injuries were made public. The employer was brought before a court before being released on bail.

Indonesia imposed a moratorium on sending domestic workers to Saudi Arabia in 2011 after another maid was beheaded for killing her employer. The ban remains in effect.

NGO Migrant Care says 45 migrant workers could face the death penalty in Saudi Arabia "if the Indonesian government doesn't defend their rights".