DUBAI (AFP) -- A rights group has voiced outrage at a Saudi court for failing to punish the employers of an Indonesian housemaid who abused her so much she had to have her toes and fingers amputated.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called for an appeals court to "impose stiff penalties on the employers, including imprisonment, and payment of significant financial compensation" to the woman, Nour Miyati.
HRW said on Wednesday that Miyati, who was awarded just 670 dollars in compensation by a Riyadh court, told the organisation her "employers beat her daily and that she had to work long hours without rest or pay.
"They withheld her passport, knocked out a tooth and caused damage to one of her eyes. The abuse escalated after she tried to escape; her employers locked her in the workplace and denied her adequate food."
HRW said Miyati was eventually treated at a Riyadh hospital in March 2005 for "gangrene, malnourishment and other injuries" and that delays in treatment resulted in her losing her toes and fingers.
Initially, all charges against Miyati's male employer were dropped, HRW said, while the female employer confessed to the abuse and was sentenced to 35 lashes.
However, it said that on Monday a Riyadh judge handed down a second verdict, "ignoring compelling physical evidence and finding the female employer not guilty of abuse."
"This outrageous ruling sends a dangerous message to Saudi employers that they can beat domestic workers with impunity, and that victims have little hope of justice," said Nisha Varia, a senior researcher at HRW.
"Instead of instilling confidence among migrant workers that they can seek redress through the Saudi justice system, this decision shows that even a case involving egregious abuse, ample evidence, and intense public scrutiny has not been given fair treatment."
The rights group estimates that there are around 1.5 million domestic workers from Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries in the conservative Muslim kingdom. It says workers are routinely underpaid, overworked, confined to the workplace or subjected to verbal, physical and sexual abuse.
And those who complain often face countercharges, such as theft, adultery or fornication in cases of rape, or witchcraft.
In what it called a "perversion of justice," HRW said Miyati was convicted in 2005 of falsely accusing her employers and sentenced to 79 lashes. That ruling was overturned in 2006.
"Nour Miyati showed her faith in the system and courageously decided to continue with her case despite the long wait and counter-accusations," it said.
"The meagre compensation of 2,500 riyals is a slap in the face... showing that a foreign domestic worker's life and limb is not valued on the equal basis of a Saudi."