CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 June 2019

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Malaysian decision challenges Indonesia on death penalty

Atambua  (UCAN): The Kota Bharu High Court in Malaysia acquitted an Indonesian migrant worker, Wilfrida Soik, of murder charges on the grounds of mental illness on August 25.

The Catholic woman was freed from death row and ordered to be treated in a psychiatric hospital until deemed eligible for a complete pardon from the sultan of the Malaysian state of Kelantan.

Church leaders in Atambua in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, applauded the decision.

“I truly thank God that she is freed from the death penalty. People cannot take other people’s lives,” Father Gregorius Zainudin Dudy, former secretary of the Commission for Justice and Peace, said on August 26.

Soik, who comes from the Belu district of East Nusa Tenggara, was charged with murder after her 60-year-old employer, who had Parkinson’s disease, was found dead in December 2010.

The Church, along with numerous non-government organisations, had been advocating for her acquittal.

Father Dudy explained, “In 2010, we—representing the commission and non-government organisations—wrote to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono when he was visiting Atambua. We urged him to help free Soik from the death penalty because she was still young when she was taken to Malaysia and also suffers from a mental illness.” 

Soik arrived in Malaysia in September 2010, after being approached by brokers offering to get her a job. The men falsified papers, saying she was legally allowed to work when actually she was only 17-years-old.
However, her passport stated that she was born on 8 June 1989.

“Her release from the death penalty should also make us aware that we should be more careful in applying for jobs overseas,” Father Dudy said.

Sister Genoveva Bikan, from the Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit in Timor, said the outcome was the result of years of agitating along with other non-government organisations.

“When we made such a strong collaboration, the government could hear our voices,” she said.

She recalled that her group and others often jointly organised peaceful protests including a candlelight vigil in Atambua in October 2013, attended by thousands of people.  

Soik’s uncle, Kornelis Bere Mau, said he hopes the court will eventually release his niece.

“She is free from the death penalty and is being treated in the hospital now. But we, her family, do hope that she will come home soon,” he said.

Anis Hidayah, the executive director of the Jakarta-based Migrant Care, which deals with issues faced by migrant workers, said, “Soik’s release from the death penalty should be a trigger for the Indonesian government to immediately eliminate the death penalty.”

Hidayah said that 272 Indonesian migrant workers now face the death penalty in China, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Qatar.

 

“The Indonesian government must take a maximum defensive measure. But it seems that the death penalty implemented in our country will hamper the government from doing so,” she said.

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