ASIA/MALAYSIA - Church and NGOs take to the field to save Wilfrida, Catholic girl who risks death penalty

Friday, 22 July 2011

Kuala Lumpur (Fides Service) - An Indonesian Catholic girl, Wilfrid Soik, lies in Malaysian prisons, accused of killing her employer, and could be sentenced to death. In her defense some non-governmental organizations, in Indonesia and Malaysia, and the Indonesian Church in Atambua (Diocese in the western part of Timor island, from which she comes) have mobilized. The case, in fact, has many ambiguities and needs clarification at all levels. Besides, Wilfrid is a mentally disabled girl, a victim of human trafficking. This is what Fides learns from sources in the Indonesian Church and the "Coalition Against Death Penalty" in Indonesia, which is trying to look into the case, to protect Wilfida’s rights and to prevent her from being executed.
The Catholic Church in Atambua, through the Bishop Mgr. Datu Serik, reported the case to the "Commission for Human Rights" in Indonesia and is working on finding the right way to seek pardon in favor of Wilfrida and to send her back home. Her story, in fact, reported to Fides, is a story of poverty, marginalization and exploitation. Wilfrida comes from a very poor family. Born in 1993 in the province of Belu (province of East Nusa Tenggara), since the age of two has been suffering from mental disorders. Last year she was approached by some men who, through the agency of the Ministry of Labor in Belu, found her a job in Malaysia. To allow her to emigrate these people even falsified her documents, making Wifrida appear she had reached legal age. Wilfrida was in fact the victim of an organization that is involved in human trafficking, especially women. She arrived in Malaysia, Wilfrida was employed as a maid in the city of Pasir Mas (near Johor), in the house of an elderly lady, Yeap Seok Pen, who suffered from Parkinson's disease. The woman was found dead on Dec. 7, 2010, Wilfrida was accused of murder and arrested. The court of Pasir Mas on May 9 held a hearing to determine the culpability of the young girl but, as sources of Fides say "the result is not so clear, nor are the evidence against the girl". The fact is that Wilfrida risks death penalty. The Coalition Against Death Penalty in Indonesia, which brings together numerous organizations, including the Community of Sant'Egidio, wrote to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and the Indonesian Embassy in Malaysia, has taken the responsibility to look into the case. The Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recently formed the "Indonesian Migrant Workers Task Force", just to deal with the thorny cases of migrant workers sentenced to death abroad. Charles Hector Fernandez, a Catholic lawyer in Kuala Lumpur, responsible for the "Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture" (MADPET),declared to Fides: "We will investigate Wilfrid’s case in depth, and do everything in our power to help her". He explains: "According to the Malaysian law, in case of murder, the judge is obliged to apply death penalty. It is one of the issues on which we are working hard, asking for a revision of the rule, so the judge can choose whether, based on extenuating circumstances, to impose life sentence".
"In Malaysia – he continues - there are over 640 inmates on death row, awaiting execution. Executions continue, there is no moratorium, but have been reduced to the point that only 2 were carried out in 2010. It seems that the government is inclined to re-examine the question of death penalty, at least to remove it as a punishment for some crimes, and remove the obligation for judges. It would be a step forward, although we are hoping for a complete abolition. For this purpose, international pressure is important, and can help a lot". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 22/07/2011)