Ambrosius Koa (front right), a relative of overseas worker Adelina Sau, a domestic helper who died in Malaysia, helps airport officials unload her coffin during its arrival at Kupang airport in East Nusa Tenggara on Feb. 17, 2018. (Photo by Joy Christian/AFP)
A month after a Malaysian court inexplicably acquitted the alleged killer of a 21-year-old Indonesian maid, anger and disbelief over the shock decision remain strong in Indonesia.
For Adelina Sau’s family, their despair over her death was made worse by the ruling, and they are left clinging to the hope that the case will somehow be reviewed and that justice will prevail.
They still do not know why Penang High Court freed Sau’s employer, Ambika M.A. Shan, who stood accused of her murder.
The 61-year-old woman allegedly tortured the maid and forced her to sleep outside with a dog prior to her death on Feb. 11 last year.
Sau was found outside her employer’s home with swelling to her face and head, which was also covered in wounds. She died later in hospital.
The decision to acquit Shan angered Malaysian and Indonesian rights groups, with Indonesia’s National Commission on Violence Against Women calling it “ a bad precedent that nourishes impunity and revokes women migrant workers' rights to protection and justice."
It also caused a spat between Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, which prompted Malaysia’s attorney-general Tommy Thomas to vow to look at the case thoroughly with a view to appealing the ruling. His promise came during a meeting with Indonesian Labor Minister Hanif in Kuala Lumpur on May 12.
“I’d be very happy if the case is reopened for the sake of our sister,” Sau’s older brother, Ambrosius Ku, told ucanews.com.
He said the entire family was angered by the decision because the court neglected to consider the evidence.
“We hope the Indonesian government uses this case to seriously tackle abuses against migrant workers and prevent other Indonesian maids like Adelina being killed with impunity,” he said. “Her killer should face severe punishment.”
Relatives of other Indonesian workers to have allegedly died at the hands of their employers or mysteriously echo the same view.
Agustinus Boimau, younger brother of Milka Boimau who also died in Malaysia last year, said a full explanation as to why the Penang court let Shan walk free must be given. He also urged justice for his sister.
“The cause of her death remains a mystery,” he said, despite local authorities in East Nusa Tenggara province having performed an autopsy on the body when it arrived back from Malaysia in March last year. “We are still waiting for the results on the actual cause of her death.”
The Malaysian court’s controversial decision also brought back painful memories for Marietta, 35, a housewife from South Central Timor district in East Nusa Tenggara province, where many domestic workers employed in Malaysia originate from.
Five years ago she left her three children to work in Kuala Lumpur with the hope of making good money for her family. She says she was recruited by an employment agency to work as a domestic helper on a two-year contract.
However, she said, her employer abused her for two years and did not pay her a salary. “I was beaten, electrocuted and kicked,” she told ucanews.com.
She said she was lucky to survive and that had it not been for neighbors who helped rescue her, she would most likely have ended up suffering the same fate as Sau.
Arta Elisabeth Purba, an anti-human trafficking activist, said the Indonesian government must not brush this issue under the carpet and not stop seeking justice for abused or murdered migrant workers, as Sau’s death was not an isolated case.
Of 217 Indonesian migrant workers who died around the world in 2017, as many as 69 (32 percent) died in Malaysia, according to figures from the Indonesian Migrant Workers' Agency.
“Any effort from Malaysian attorney-general Tommy Thomas to appeal on behalf of Adelina Sau would be most welcome,” Purba said. The Indonesian government must also find ways to protect workers like her, she said.
One way, according to Purba, is to do more to prevent unsuspecting women from being trafficked by unscupilous brokers. There has to be a collaborative effort, she said.
She pointed to cooperation between local churches, NGOs and the local government in East Nusa Tenggara to prevent women from working abroad illegally or even legally.
“Most importantly, they must be encouraged to try and generate an income locally,” she said.