A Hong Kong woman has been convicted of cruel treatment towards an Indonesian maid working for her. The case has highlighted the plight of migrant domestic workers in the financial hub.
Activists and supporters of former maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (pictured) cheered as the verdict was read out to a packed Hong Kong courtroom on Tuesday. The judge found her ex-employer, 44-year-old Law Wan-tung, guilty of 18 out of 20 charges laid against her, including grievous bodily harm, assault, criminal intimidation and failing to pay wages.
"She was, for want of a better word, a prisoner in those premises," District Court Judge Amanda Woodcock said, referring to the eight months 24-year-old Sulistyaningsih spent working in the Law's household since June 2013, adding that "when Erwiana left Hong Kong she was a shadow of her former self."
Sulistyaningsih needed hospital treatment for her injuries after she was sent back to Indonesia. Pictures of her bruised and emaciated body drew outrage across Hong Kong when they were circulated amongst domestic workers a year ago.
The treatment she endured including being given only meager portions of bread and rice, sleeping only four hours a day, never having days off, not being paid and receiving such severe beatings from her employer that she had difficulty breathing. Household implements used in the abuse included a vacuum cleaner tube. Law also subjected Sulistyaningsih to ritual humiliation.
Law's defense said the injuries could have been caused by accidents and accused Sulistyaningsih and two other maids involved in the case of being "opportunistic," an argument which was dismissed by Woodcock in her ruling as "desperate and fanciful."
From maid to advocate
Despite having described herself as a "simple village girl," Sulistyaningsih has become an advocate for workers' rights.
"To employers in Hong Kong, I hope they will start treating migrant workers as workers and human beings and stop treating us like slaves," she told reporters following the verdict. She called for Law to receive the maximum possible sentence because of what was done to her and other victims.
"Myself, I can forgive her. But Hong Kong has a justice system, because of that, justice must be upheld," she told news agency AFP.
There are more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong, most of them female and hailing from either Indonesia or the Philippines. Rights groups have criticized the conditions faced by migrant maids in Asia and the Middle East, where their lives are in stark contrast to that of their employers.
"The message should be brought home that if you live in a society where you're fortunate enough to employ a domestic helper, they're still protected by the law," police detective superintendent David Cameron told reporters following the verdict.
Law, who was ordered to pay outstanding wages and remanded into custody following the verdict, is due to be sentenced on February 27 and faces a maximum potential jail term of seven years.
se/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)