Hong Kong woman faces additional charges in maid abuse case

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 29, 2014 5:31 AM

By Alice Woodhouse and Venus Wu

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong woman charged with assaulting her domestic helper was charged on Tuesday with failing to pay wages and not granting public holiday leave in a case that has triggered outrage and highlighted the rights of maids.

Former beautician Law Wan-tung, 44, arrived at court in sunglasses and a surgical mask, shielding her face from the media with a newspaper.

In January, prosecutors laid seven charges against Law including assault of Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and two other maids, also from Indonesia. She was freed on bail.

The additional charges filed on Tuesday included failing to pay wages for seven months and not allowing public holiday leave or rest days for Erwiana. Law's bail was extended until the next hearing scheduled for May 20.

Erwiana left Hong Kong in January for Indonesia where her doctors said burns on her body were caused by boiling water.

Grisly photographs of her battered face and body circulating online sparked accusations of "modern-day slavery". Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono described her treatment as torture.

More than 20 supporters of Erwiana gathered outside the court chanting "justice for Erwiana" and "we are workers, we are not slaves".

Law did not speak to reporters.

No plea has been entered but in January, defense lawyer Patrick Wong in mitigation said Law had cooperated fully with police, had no criminal background and that there was no clear evidence of abuse except the claims made by the helpers.

While cases of such harsh treatment are rare, Hong Kong's policies on migrant workers have often made maids reluctant to report abuse for fear of losing their livelihoods and being deported.

"The Hong Kong government forces migrant workers to stay with the employer so it means this policy puts the domestic workers in a place to be abused by the employer," Sringatin, a spokeswoman for a group called Justice for Erwiana told Reuters outside the court.

"How can you report to the police if the employer is standing behind you?"

Hong Kong, a former British territory that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has about 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, most of them from the Philippines and Indonesia.

Time magazine last week named Erwiana in its 100 Most Influential People alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin and Beyonce.

(Editing by Robert Birsel)