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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.

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