A prominent Indian human rights activist is sounding the alarm: one of his countrymen, who was working in Saudi Arabia, was jailed there after filming a tearful plea in which he complained of harsh working conditions.
A few weeks ago, Abdul Sattar Makandar, a truck driver, made a video in which he says: “I have been in Saudi Arabia for 23 months, and have applied for leave to come home [to India] over five months ago. But my employer is not letting me go home… My employer doesn’t give me a proper salary, neither does he give me money for food.” Throughout the video, tears flood his eyes.
He sent this video to the human rights activist Kundan Srivastava, who posted it online. It caused an uproar in India, where it was widely shared. After being contacted by the legal department of Mandakar’s employer, Al Suroor United Group, Srivastava took down his video; however it had already been widely reposted. The employer fervently denied all of Mandakar’s claims, even sharing this photo taken of him two years earlier – when he had just started working for them – in an effort to show he had been treated well.
Makandar was recently arrested on a Saudi law which prevents “spreading misinformation” on social media, and is now in jail, says Srivastava.
But there is a glimmer of hope for Makandar. Indian authorities have taken up his case with their Saudi counterparts, in the hopes of finding a diplomatic solution.
The conditions for foreign workers in Saudi Arabia are widely criticised by human rights groups. The country uses a Kefala sponsorship system, which makes it very difficult for workers to change jobs or return home without authorisation from their employer. Human Rights Watch reports that wages are often not paid on time, but that employees are afraid to speak up since they depend on their employers to grant them permits to exit the country.