Tales of torture.
Saudis rightly resent newspapers abroad publishing twisted or false reports about the Kingdom. Trying to set the record straight, however, is not made easy by the constant drip of stories of Saudis mistreating foreigners in the Kingdom.
They are all too common. The case of the five Ethiopians who died of asphyxiation at an overcrowded detention center in Jazan is but the latest in a line of shocking revelations that speak of a darker side to life for those foreigners who for various reasons fall foul of the system or end up working for unscrupulous or cruel employers. Arab News regularly reports such cases -- such as that of the Indian maid kept locked for months in a house in Riyadh after her sponsor "sold" her to a recruitment agency. Or that of the hospital cleaner from Kerala so badly beaten by her supervisor that she ended up in the same hospital where she worked. Or the maid beaten up by her employer and his wife who forced her to work in other people's homes-- illegal under Saudi law -- keeping all the money they charged and not paying her for it. There are many other allegations of foreign employees unpaid or mistreated that Arab News does not publish simply because the facts cannot be verified.
None of these, however, compare in horror to the report of the Sri Lankan maid found with 24 nails and needles in her body which, she claims, were hammered in by her sponsors.
This story is causing a great stir. There have been protests outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Sri Lanka. On the other side of the debate are those who say the allegations are false, that 49-year-old L.T. Ariyawathi could not have got through airport metal detectors without being stopped. Clearly the story has to be thoroughly investigated. If her employers did this then they must be punished rigorously -- and be seen to be punished. That is crucial. Justice has to be seen to be done as a deterrent to others. But equally, if the women did this to herself, hoping to benefit financially from it, she must be punished.
The other important point is that immediate action is imperative. The longer the case drags on, the more that can damage the Kingdom's reputation. The delay will be used by those with an anti-Saudi bias as evidence that when it comes to foreign workers' rights and the way they are treated there is an institutionalized culture of contempt.
The fact that the overwhelming majority of domestic servants in the Kingdom are well treated and well appreciated is, unfortunately, irrelevant in this situation. As for bad employers, there are bad employers everywhere: Saudis are no better, no worse than anyone else. Ultimately, the big issue here is not even what may or may not have happened to the maid. It is about justice. A horrible crime is alleged. It must not be ignored simply because the supposed victim is foreign and the alleged perpetrators Saudis. There already is a perception that foreign domestic servants are regarded as somewhat less than human, that authorities turn a blind eye to crimes committed against them. There is an opportunity here to prove that is not the case. It must be seized.
- Arab News
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