The Philippine Foreign Ministry Monday welcomed a decision by the Kuwaiti judiciary calling for the death penalty of a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife for killing their Filipina maid.
“The Philippines today welcomed the reported decision of a Kuwaiti court to mete out the death sentence to the principal suspects in the murder of Filipina domestic worker Joanna Demafelis,” a statement from the ministry said.
It added that the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait was informed about the court’s decision and “is now waiting for a formal notification from Kuwaiti authorities.” Kuwaiti media reports claimed that the suspects were tried in absentia.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano called the decision “a very important development in our quest for justice for Joanna.”
“We continue to look forward to the cooperation of our friends not only in Kuwait but also in Lebanon and Syria in our efforts to bring this case to a close,” he added.
The statement on the ministry’s website said that Kuwaiti authorities informed Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola of the decision during a meeting in Kuwait Sunday, “but did not provide additional details.” The embassy was later able to obtain a copy of the court order.
Philippine Ambassador to Kuwait Renato Villa said Kuwaiti authorities had requested the extradition of Lebanese national Nader Essam Assaf, but that it is possible that Lebanese authorities will decide not to turn him over and will try the case in Beirut instead.
A judicial source told The Daily Star Monday that Lebanon had refused a request to extradite Assaf to Kuwait. “No, he’s a Lebanese citizen and they will prosecute him here,” the source said.
Assaf has been indicted in Lebanon by the Appeals Public Prosecutor in the south, Judge Rahif Ramadan, on an article of the Lebanese Penal Code that carries the death penalty. He had admitted to murdering Demafelis in Kuwait.
Assaf is from the southern city of Sidon. His wife, Syrian national Mona Hassoun, is suspected of participating in the crime. Both suspects were arrested in Damascus and while Assaf was handed over to Lebanese authorities, his wife remains in custody in Syria.
Lou Arriola said her department would provide lawyers to assist in the case if Lebanese authorities decided to hold the trials in Beirut.
She said the Philippine Embassy in Beirut was scheduled to meet with Lebanese authorities handling the case Tuesday to discuss the next steps.
Although Lebanon’s Penal Code maintains the death penalty for certain crimes, there has long been a moratorium on carrying out the sentence. Instead, those sentenced spend life in prison. Kuwait, however, maintains the death penalty, with the Cornell Law School’s Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide reporting seven sentences were carried out in 2017.
The discovery of Demafelis’ body on Feb. 6 in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait City sparked outrage and refocused attention on the plight of thousands of Filipinos toiling abroad. It prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to ban the deployment of new Filipino workers to Kuwait, where many cases of abuse have been reported.
Assaf and his wife were the subjects of an Interpol manhunt after Kuwaiti authorities discovered Demafelis’ battered body inside a freezer in the couple’s abandoned apartment unit, more than a year after her family reported her missing.
The Philippines is a major labor exporter with about a 10th of its 100 million people working abroad.
The workers have been called national heroes because the income they send home sustains the Southeast Asian nation’s economy, accounting for about 10 percent of its annual gross domestic product.
Philippine officials are under increasing pressure to do more to monitor the safety of the workers, who are mostly maids, construction workers and laborers.
Nearly 11,000 of the more than 252,000 Filipino workers in Kuwait are there illegally or are not properly authorized.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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