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Malaysia's top court upholds acquittal in Adelina murder case

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Domestic Slavery

Today the Federal Court of Malaysia affirmed the murder acquittal of the employer of Adelina Lisao, an Indonesian domestic worker who passed away in February 2018 after reportedly suffering severe abuse and forced labor.

This marks the final ruling in the long-running criminal case against Adelina’s employer, S Ambika, with the Federal Court stating today that “There is no appealable error by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.”

Federal Court Judge Vernon Ong noted that “In fact, based on appeal records, there was no reason given by the prosecution (in the High Court)” and that a discharge not amounting to an acquittal could only be granted if a good reason was presented.

The failure to secure justice for Adelina largely came down to legal errors by prosecutors in the earlier court cases.

Free Malaysia Today reports:

The High Court in George Town acquitted her on April 18, 2019 although the prosecution had requested a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA). The Court of Appeal affirmed Ambika’s acquittal last year.

In its decision, Court of Appeal judge Nordin Hassan had pointed out that the prosecution accepted a representation from Ambika’s legal team and that it would not go ahead with the proceedings against her.

“The decision not to proceed with the prosecution of the respondent (Ambika) was made two days before the decision by the trial judge to acquit her,” Nordin said.

“On this ground alone, the exercise of the trial judge’s discretionary power to order an acquittal against the respondent is justified. There is no valid reason for the prosecution to apply for the case to be classified as DNAA when it had been decided that the charges against the respondent were to be dropped.”

Deputy public prosecutor Dusuki Mokhtar today submitted that the Court of Appeal misconstrued the section on the judge’s discretion and the AGC’s reply.

The Indonesian Ambassador in Malaysia, Hermono, said the Indonesian government accepted the disappointing ruling today, but added that the “ordinary man” would find it hard to understand how the law failed to deliver justice for Adelina. “It is difficult to accept as it was a tragic death,” he said.

Freedom United and our partner Tenaganita delivered over 12,000 petition signatures to the Chief Justice ahead of today’s hearing, and we are extremely disappointed by the decision. We believe the Malaysian prosecution has failed, and unfortunately, this means we continue to cultivate a culture of impunity for perpetrators among employers of domestic workers. Today’s impunity is tomorrow’s crime. We will continue to seek justice for Adelina.

After today’s ruling, the Indonesian Ambassador said “We are looking into other possibilities like filing a civil suit. We will refer this matter to higher-ups in Jakarta and our lawyers,” adding that someone must be held responsible for her death.

How did this happen?

To understand how this happened, we need to go back to prosecutors’ actions in earlier court cases. In the first case, the trial judge of the High Court in George Town acquitted Adelina’s employer in 2019.

Yet prior to the ruling, Ambika’s lawyer wrote to the Attorney General’s Chamber and, shockingly, the deputy public prosecutor told the judge “she had instruction from her superiors not to proceed with the trial “at this juncture”’.

Prosecutors then requested a discharge not amounting to an acquittal (DNAA), but without any explanation as to why, the trial judge acquitted Adelina’s employer.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the acquittal in 2020, with the judge noting that “There is no valid reason for the prosecution to apply for the case to be classified as DNAA when it had been decided that the charges against the respondent were to be dropped.”

We and Tenaganita spoke out against these clear missteps by prosecutors, and ultimately the Federal Court decision came down to their errors.

Federal Court Judge Vernon Ong ruled that he prosecution had failed to give a good reason why they sought a discharge not amounting to an acquittal and that there was no appealable error by the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

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Ray Menon
Ray Menon
5 months ago

A sad day for justice and domestic workers.

MarilynnB
MarilynnB
4 months ago

Not only is this an affront to the memory of Adelina, but it sends a message to abusive employers that they can get away with murder in Malaysia!

Julie Taylor
Julie Taylor
4 months ago

This is so clearly a travesty of justice. The Federal Court of Malaysia has completely failed Adelina – she deserves better!

Ray Menon
Ray Menon
5 months ago

A sad day for justice for domestic workers!

Samuel Daniel
Samuel Daniel
4 months ago

Justice for Adelina and all those workers like her. Every human being has a duty to speak up for the voiceless and demand Justice.