Kuwait has sentenced in absentia a Lebanese-Syrian couple to death by hanging for the premeditated murder of 29-year-old Joanna Demafelis, a domestic worker from the Philippines.
Her body was discovered in a freezer in the couple’s apartment earlier this year. An autopsy revealed that Demafelis had been beaten, and had suffered broken ribs, internal bleeding, and contusions.
The couple, Nader Essam Assaf of Lebanon and his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun, are currently in custody in their respective homelands. Kuwait has requested their extradition. The couple could appeal the sentence if they return to Kuwait.
DW reports that the murder case sparked a diplomatic row between the Philippines and Kuwait, where over 250,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) live:
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 says that so far 4,000 undocumented Filipino workers in Kuwait have been repatriated, but he hopes more will be able to return.
“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.