The Indonesian government continued its push to save a young maid facing the death sentence for allegedly murdering her employer on Thursday while the nation’s manpower and transmigration minister left to meet with Malaysian officials as the maid’s trial drew to a close.
“The government is doing everything it can to save Wilfrida [Soik],” Manpower and Transmigration Minister Muhaimin Iskandar said. “Besides giving a maximum [amount of] legal support, we are also taking a bilateral diplomatic approach to freeing her.”
The Indonesian maid is on trial for the 2010 murder of 60-year-old Yeap Seok Pen in her Kampung Lubok, Pasir Mas, home. The Malaysian woman allegedly accused the young maid of sleeping with her husband in an argument that turned physical, according to reports in Malaysian media.
Wilfrida reportedly grabbed a knife and slashed the 60-year-old in the face. The maid was arrested after the woman’s son returned home to find his mother dead, police said at the time of Wilfrida’s arrest.
The murder trial, while common enough in Malaysia, became politicized in Indonesia ahead of the 2014 national elections. Indonesian lawmakers have urged Malaysian authorities to pardon Wilfrida as an online petition garnered nearly 12,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
Presidential hopeful and Great Indonesia Movement party (Gerindra) chair Prabowo Subianto flew to Malaysia in mid-September in a highly publicized trip to meet with the jailed woman. The former Kopassus special forces general has attempted to recast himself as a strong populist leader in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections, asking “If not us, who else? If not now, when?” on his Facebook page.
Prabowo reportedly took notice of the case after hearing allegations that the woman was denied legal counsel for three years, Gerindra deputy secretary general Sudaryono said on Monday.
“According to Prabowo, Wilfrida’s hands were very cold when they shook hands,” Sudaryono said of the visit. “The girl did not expect and never dreamed of being visited by a political figure. She was also very happy, because she sees hope for her future.
“Prabowo also motivated Wilfrida not to give up.”
Now the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration is throwing its weight behind the case. The ministry coordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to secure a team of attorneys to represent Wilfrida, Muhaimin said.
“The team of attorneys will assist her and observe her trial,” he said. “They are working hard to find strong legal evidence to break the case and free Wilfrida from the death penalty.”
Wilfrida’s trial is scheduled to conclude on Sept. 30 when the court issues a verdict. If declared guilty, the woman faces a maximum sentence of death under Malaysia’s criminal code.
Wilfrida reportedly left her home in Belu, East Nusa Tenggara, to work as a maid in Malaysia years before the murder occurred. She was working for a family in Pasir Mas when her employer, Yeap, became suspicious of Wilfrida’s close relationship with her 64-year-old husband.
The husband would often stand up for the young maid when Yeap scolded her, police told local media at the time of Wilfrida’s arrest. Yeap, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, eventually confronted the maid with the accusations when the dispute turned violent.
Wilfrida said she was attempting to defend herself when she reportedly slashed Yeap in the face. She also claimed, according to Indonesian activists, that she was trafficked to Malaysia by an unscrupulous agent who bypassed Indonesia’s ineffective ban on sending domestic workers to Malaysia.
The woman’s actual age at the time of her arrest is a key point in the Indonesian government’s defense. Wilfrida was either 21 years old or 17 years old when she was charged with murder. The woman’s passport carried a birth date of June 8, 1989, but her christening letter from a Catholic church in Indonesia read Oct. 12, 1993, according to reports on the Indonesian new portal Tempo.co.
If she was indeed born in 1993, Wilfrida was only 12 years old when she arrived in Malaysia.
It’s unknown which of the stories are true, but Indonesian officials, for their part, seem convinced. Muhaimin referred to Wilfrida as a victim of human trafficking before departing for Malaysia. Her trial, and possible conviction, would be a miscarriage of justice considering her circumstances, he said.
“Malaysia should prove their commitment to eradicating human trafficking in their country,” Muhaimin said.
Indonesia Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) lawmaker Rieke Diah Pitaloka, who sits on the House of Representatives’ commission on labor and welfare, said the case could be a bellwether of renewed commitments to combating human trafficking.
“The case can be our pathway to solving human trafficking,” Rieke said last week. “Wilfrida has been sent to Malaysia when Indonesia had banned such a move. I will call for a more intensive political lobbying between the Indonesian government and the Malaysian government.
“In the last year of SBY’s time in office, he should be able to do this.”
Indonesia has a poor track record when it comes to protecting its citizens abroad. Migrant workers have fallen to their deaths in Singapore, been forced to work without pay in Malaysia and beheaded in Saudi Arabia.
The country has responded with several bans, including embargoes against Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. But the situation on the ground in eastern Indonesia, one of the most impoverished sections of the country, often drives unskilled workers overseas for work.
In Malaysia, circumventing a government ban can mean dealing with shady people smugglers posing as employment agents. In Saudi Arabia, it can mean years of waiting for a return trip home under the kingdom’s harsh employment laws.
The workers, who are often young and poorly educated, have run afoul of the law in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, where they have been jailed for murder, robbery and child abuse.
In Saudi Arabia, the Indonesian government has taken advantage of a local custom of paying diyya, or “blood money,” to victim’s families in exchange for the maid’s life — handing over millions to people accused of committing years of abuse.
In Malaysia no such system exists.
Currently 186 Indonesian migrant workers face the death penalty in Malaysia for a variety of offenses, according to reports by the state-run Antara News Agency.
The government has responded to requests for aid from more than 60 citizens facing death row since 2011, which simultaneously restarting its own executions of foreign nationals, according to a report by Amnesty International.
In April, the Indonesian Supreme Court sentenced a Malaysian national to death for possessing more than 350,000 Ecstasy pills and 48.5 kilograms of methamphetamine.
There are at least 130 people on death row in Indonesia, according to Amnesty International. Each faces death by firing squad.