By Beh Lih Yi
JAKARTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The case of an Indonesian woman expected to be executed this week for drug trafficking highlights the risk to migrant workers of being duped into becoming drug mules, human rights campaigners said.
Merri Utami, who was convicted in 2003 of smuggling 1.1 kgs of heroin into Indonesia, is believed to be among 14 drug convicts due to be executed this weekend.
The Indonesian government has not released the names of the 14 but Utami has been transferred to the execution site and activists said she is among those moved. U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein called for Indonesia to immediately reinstate a moratorium on the death penalty that was suspended in 2013, and not proceed with the reportedly imminent executions.
According to Indonesia's women's rights commission, a government-backed body that functions independently, Utami had gone to Taiwan to work as a maid to escape her abusive husband.
After divorcing him, she got involved with a man who took her to Nepal. Utami says that when the pair returned separately to Indonesia, the man gave her a bag to carry which contained heroin but she had not realized this.
Rights groups have compared Utami's case to that of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipino maid found guilty of drug trafficking in Indonesia and due to face a firing squad last year.
Veloso was granted a last-minute reprieve following a request from Manila after an employment recruiter, whom Veloso had accused of planting drugs in her luggage, confessed to police in the Philippines.
Female migrant workers are the perfect targets for drug trafficking rings because they are often poor, with limited education but they hold passports, campaigners say.
"This has become a pattern and the modus operandi is always the same," said Azriana, chair of Indonesia's National Commission on Violence Against Women, which carried out a survey of 16 Indonesian women sentenced to death over drug offences at home and abroad.
Azriana, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, urged Jakarta to investigate such cases.
Migrante International, a migrant workers' group in the Philippines that led the campaign to halt Veloso's execution, said there were many more women like her.
"Governments should consider (migrant workers) as people who are victimized by the drug trade, they are tricked into being mules - but they are the ones being punished for the crime," said Mic Catuira, Migrante International's deputy secretary-general by telephone from Manila.
Catuira told the Thomson Reuters Foundation her organization was handling other cases involving migrant workers convicted of drug trafficking, including a Filipino woman in Saudi Arabia.
Indonesia and the Philippines are two of Asia's main suppliers of migrant workers, with about 8.5 million such workers overseas, official data showed.
There are 205 Indonesians and 94 Filipino migrant workers on death row overseas, according to Indonesia's women's commission and Migrante International, citing figures from their respective foreign ministries.
The Indonesian women's commission has launched a last-ditch attempt to prevent Utami's execution by petitioning Indonesian President Joko Widodo to grant her clemency.
Indonesia has declared a "drug emergency" and vowed no mercy for drug traffickers.
(Reporting by Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi, Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)