Officials in Indonesia said Tuesday they were urging Malaysia’s public prosecutors to appeal a high court’s acquittal of a woman accused of fatally abusing an Indonesian maid and forcing her to sleep outside with a dog last year.
Domestic worker Adelina Lisao, 21, was rescued in February 2018 after she was found sleeping outside her employer’s house in Bukit Mertajam in the Malaysian state of Penang. She suffered wounds to her face, hands and legs and died of organ failure at a hospital the next day.
Her employer, Ambika M.A. Shan, was charged with murder and could have faced the death penalty if convicted, but Malaysia’s High Court in Penang acquitted her on Thursday without stating a reason.
“We have conveyed our hope that the prosecutor will appeal the verdict,” said Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the foreign ministry’s director for the protection of Indonesian overseas workers.
“Because this is a criminal case, it’s the public prosecutor versus the defendant. Only the prosecutor can appeal so we can only ask the prosecutor to appeal,” he told BenarNews, adding that the Indonesian government respected the Malaysian legal system.
“The Malaysian attorney general is still investigating the decision. We hope that there will be a result soon,” he said.
Iqbal said the ministry’s goal was for Adelina’s family to get justice, adding it was shocked by the court’s decision.
“At the time of the verdict, a number of key witnesses had not been heard,” he said.
Police and other officials rescued Adelina 14 months ago after authorities received a complaint from a neighbor, local councilman Joshua Woo Sze Zeng said at the time.
Woo Sze Zeng said he found the maid sleeping in the house’s carport and suffering from the wounds. She was made to sleep for almost two months on a mat where a Rottweiler was tied up nearby, according to a neighbor.
Police arrested Ambika, 61, and her two children shortly after Adelina was removed from their house.
Ambika’s lawyer, Anbananthan Yathiraju, said the court’s decision was proper because Adelina had told hospital staff she had not been abused but had come in contact with “chemicals” while cleaning the toilet, Free Malaysia Today reported.
“There is nothing sinister about the acquittal. The accused was acquitted in accordance with the law,” he said.
Meanwhile, Indonesian activist Sarah Lerry Mboik said she was holding out hope for justice. She represents Adelina’s mother, who lives in a remote part of East Nusa Tenggara province.
“She was just a poor girl who sought a living for her family in her village, but she never received any pay. Just because she was poor doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve justice,” the People’s Development Initiative and Advocacy Foundation activist told BenarNews.
“I hope there’s still justice for Adelina. I hope human rights advocates there can further bring this case to light, which stems from human trafficking. Adelina was a victim,” she said.
The Indonesian government’s call for an appeal is supported by Steven Sim, who represents the Bukit Mertajam constituency in Malaysia’s parliament, and by Tenaganita, a Malaysian group advocating for the rights of women and migrants.
Sim said he contacted Attorney General Tommy Thomas, and Thomas vowed to personally investigate the case.
“I trust the AG and the legal system will uphold justice,” Sim said in a statement.
Sim went on to say that Malaysia needed better laws for migrant workers because human rights must be protected for everyone.
“What is more important, we have to ensure such tragedy will not repeat [itself] in this country ever again,” he said.
Tenaganita took aim at the court system.
“We are extremely shocked and shaken by the High Court’s decision. We cannot imagine the unbearable grief of Adelina’s family,” Tenaganita said in a statement. “The attorney general’s office needs to explain why the prosecution has failed to bring justice for Adelia when there was substantive evidence in this case.”
Domestic workers in Malaysia have been victims of verbal and physical abuse committed by employers and such ill-treatment was prevalent because of the lack of legal protection for them.
Victims who free themselves from abusive and exploitative work by running away are inadvertently punished by authorities under the Immigration Act because they become undocumented, Tenaganita said.
It said an online petition launched Sunday had collected more than 12,000 responses.
An Indonesian labor rights group also condemned the high court action.
“Migrant Care urges the Indonesian government to protest and appeal the decision by collecting testimony and evidence that can overturn the decision,” Migrant Care Executive Director Wahyu Susilo told BenarNews.
Abuse of domestic workers widespread
Shortly after Adelina’s death, The Straits Times reported that 250,000 women, mostly from Indonesia and the Philippines, worked as maids in Malaysia.
The Singapore-based newspaper reported on abuses against domestic workers dating back more than a decade.
Among those was a case in 2004, when a 20-year-old was “tortured by her employer with a hot iron,” a case from 2010, when a 26-year-old maid was beaten with a belt, her back scalded with boiling water and her breasts pressed with a hot iron,” and a case in 2016 when a 19-year-old was unrecognizable because of “injuries she sustained, after she was assaulted by her employer daily.”
Tenaganita reported handling 120 cases involving abused foreign workers from June to December 2017. Of those cases, 82 were women and most of them worked as maids.