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08 December 2023

'Tortured' maid's employer guilty in Hong Kong

Indonesian former maid Erwiana Sulistyaningsih (C) arrives at the court of justice in Hong Kong on February 10, 2015. (AFP)


A Hong Kong woman accused of torturing her Indonesian maid has been found guilty on Tuesday in a case that sparked international outrage.

Law Wan-tung, a 44-year-old mother-of-two, was arrested in January last year for seriously wounding her former domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, who left the city that same month.

Pictures of the injuries sustained by the 23-year-old, who was admitted to hospital in Indonesia emaciated and in a critical condition, shocked Hong Kong and sparked anger in her home country.

Law has denied all the charges against her, including causing grievous bodily harm with intent, criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages -- a total of 21 counts, some of which also relate to her previous employees. The most serious carry a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Ahead of the verdict, which was due at 10:00 am (0200 GMT), a small group of around 20 protesters gathered outside the courthouse, holding up placards reading "End slavery".

"We are workers, we are not slaves, justice for Erwiana, prosecute Law Wan-tung," they shouted.
During the six-week trial, prosecutors have said she turned household items such as a mop, a ruler and a clothes hanger into "weapons" against her maids.

Sulistyaningsih, who was swarmed by journalists when she arrived ahead of the verdict, has described in vivid detail how she was "tortured", starved, beaten and ritually humiliated by Law, with prosecutors saying she was treated as an "unpaid slave".

The case sparked protests by migrant workers in the financial hub, and has shone a spotlight on the plight of migrant domestic helpers in Asia and the Middle East after reports of torture and even killings.

Sulistyaningsih said she lived for months on nothing but bread and rice, sleeping only four hours a day and being so badly beaten by her then-employer that she was knocked unconscious.

Law's defence accused the former maid and another two domestic helpers involved in the case of being "opportunistic", adding their evidence showed the injuries could have been caused by accidents.

Hong Kong is home to nearly 300,000 maids from mainly Southeast Asian countries -- predominantly Indonesia and the Philippines -- and criticism from rights groups over their treatment is growing.

Amnesty International in 2013 condemned the "slavery-like" conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work as domestic staff and accused authorities of "inexcusable" inaction.

It found that Indonesians were exploited by recruitment and placement agencies who seize their documents and charge them excessive fees, with false promises of high salaries and good working conditions.