On June 30 this year, a Saudi living in Arapahoe County, Colorado, was convicted of sexual abuse against his Indonesian maid. 37-year old Homaidan al-Turki (pictured, right) was studying for a linguistics doctorate at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He was found guilty of 12 felony counts of unlawful sexual contact with use of force and two misdemeanors, false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment. He had never paid the maid the paltry $150 per month that he had promised her when her “employment” had commenced.
For four years, he kept the 24-year old maid as a virtual slave in his home, confiscated her passport, and subjected to her to sexual assaults which culminated in her rape in late 2004. His attorney, John Richilano, had argued in court that there had been misunderstood cultural differences, which he described as “cynical Islamophobia”. His wife, Sarah Khonaizan, who had obviously colluded with the maltreatment of the maid, who cooked and looked after their five children, was deported. The maid now lives in Aurora.
Al-Turki’s followers and family caused havoc in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. He was sentenced on August 31. Additionally, he was given a further eight years’ jail for theft, where he withheld the maid’s wages. Even while being sentenced, Al-Turki, who had lived in the US for 14 years, still protested that he was “framed” by the prosecutors’ Islamophobia.
“The state has criminalized these basic Muslim behaviors. Attacking traditional Muslim behaviors was the focal point of the prosecution,” Al-Turki said to the judge. If you have read our special report on a Filipino maid who was similarly kept a prisoner in a Saudi imam’s home in Riyadh, and subjected to frequent rape, then perhaps this sort of “Muslim behavior” comes naturally to Saudi Arabian men.
The Saudi press has described the case as one of Islamophobic oppression, with the US judiciary expressing their bias against Muslims. Many Saudis are convinced that Al-Turki would never have been convicted in Saudi Arabia. The experiences of Flora del Mindanao, who was even accused of theft by the imam who imprisoned and raped her, would suggest that this is true.
A US government report stated: “Foreign embassies continued to receive reports of employers abusing domestic servants. Such abuse included withholding of food, beatings and other physical abuse, and rape (see Section 5). The Government’s figures for 1999 stated that 7,000 maids fled their place of employment, and the actual number presumably was higher. In 2001 the media reported additional stories of such incidents. The authorities in some cases forced such maids to return to their places of employment.”
Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to work unless they have permission from a male relative, states Human Rights Watch. They are not allowed to drive, such is their second-class status. But for the imported maids, there is little redress when they are assaulted or raped by their Saudi employers.
In April 2005, a Saudi employer burned his Indonesian maid Suniati Binti Nibaran Sujari, who barely survived. When in March last year another Indonesian maid accused her employers of torture, she was placed in a hospital, a prison, and a women’s rehabilitation center before being handed over to the Indonesian embassy.
Indian maids travelling to Saudi Arabia must first be registered before they leave, to avoid the potential abuse they may endure from their employers.
In April last year, Indonesian maid Nour Miyati had to have four fingers amputated. They were removed because they had developed gangrene, after she was tied up for a month by her Saudi employer. Her toes managed to remain attached to her body, even though these too had become affected.
600,000 Indonesian women are kept as “maids” in the kingdom. In 2004, it was reported that suicides had increased amongst Indonesian maids. Between January and June 2004, 32 Indonesians died, and six committed suicide in the kingdom. One maid drank detergent to end her life of misery. At that time, requests for help from maids were running at 10 a day at the Indonesian embassy and five to seven a day at each of the consulates. These were the ones who were lucky enough to be able to escape to seek help.
On Saturday in the Rocky Mountain News, the visit by Colorado Attorney, General John Struthers, to Saudi Arabia last week, paid for by the federal government, was justified.
Struthers had gone to reassure the Saudi authorities that Homaidan Al-Turki had been treated fairly. He met with King Abdullah and Crown Prince Sultan, as well as with Saudi journalists.
Deputy Attorney General Jason Dunn said on Friday: “There was a lot of public attention in Saudi Arabia on this case.” He explained that Struthers had told the Saudis how the US judicial system works and that “in Colorado, crimes of this sort are dealt with severely. He wasn’t apologizing for it, but he wanted them to understand why the result of the case was what it was.”
It beggars belief that anyone should have to explain to the Saudis that imprisoning and raping a maid is illegal, and judged to be a serious crime in the United States. The necessity of such a visit only shows how barbaric, sexist and Medieval the Saudi kingdom really is.