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Filipina maid's murderers get death penalty in Kuwait

April 1, 2018

The body of the Filipina maid was found in an abandoned house in Kuwait belonging to a Lebanese-Syrian couple. The murder sparked a diplomatic dispute between Kuwait and the Philippines.

Protesters in the Philippines hold photos of loved ones who were killed working as domestic workers overseas.
Image: picture-alliance/AP-Photo/B. Marquez

A Kuwaiti court on Sunday sentenced a couple to death in absentia for the murder of a Filipina maid whose body was found in a household freezer in their apartment earlier this year. 

The murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis sparked a diplomatic crisis with the Philippines. An autopsy revealed that she had been beaten, and had suffered broken ribs, internal bleeding and contusions.

Her body was found in a freezer in an abandoned home that belonged to Nader Essam Assaf of Lebanon and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun. They are being held in custody in their respective homelands. Kuwait has requested their extradition. They were arrested in February in the Syrian capital, Damascus, following an Interpol search.

The Kuwaiti court convicted the couple of premeditated murder and sentenced them to death by hanging — a ruling the couple can appeal if they return to Kuwait.

The criminal court issued its verdict at its first hearing, convicting the couple of "killing the Filipina worker and putting her body in the freezer," according to the Al-Qabas newspaper.

Family members and government officials watch as the coffin containing Joanna Demafelis is offloaded from an airplane in the Philippines.
The coffin of Joanna Demafelis was returned to the Philippines in FebruaryImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Marquez

Troubled sponsorship program

The Philippines has more than 250,000 nationals working in Kuwait, the foreign ministry in Manila estimates. Most of them are domestic helpers and most send remittances home to support their families.

Last month Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte imposed a departure ban on nationals seeking to fly to Kuwait. He ordered Filipino workers who had suffered abuse in Kuwait to return home.

Philippines Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Arriola was due to hold talks with Kuwaiti officials Sunday regarding working conditions for Filipino workers, including labor law violations.

Human rights organizations have long expressed alarm over the plight of foreign workers in Kuwait and neighboring Arab countries where migrant labor is regulated under a system known as "kafala," a type of sponsorship program that ties migrant workers' visas to their employers. It prohibits them from leaving the country or changing jobs without prior consent.

Last month Kuwait and the Philippines, eager to end the dispute, signed an agreement that would regulate some working conditions for domestic workers.

Philippines Ambassador Renato Pedro said his country had already repatriated 4,000 Filipino workers living in Kuwait without the proper paperwork.

"We are now in talks with Kuwaiti authorities to secure an amnesty that will allow 6,000 Filipinos living without papers to return," he said.

bik/jm  (AFP, Reuters dpa)

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