Petronela Koa cries next to a coffin containing her niece, Adelina Sau, a domestic helper from Indonesia who died in Penang, during its arrival at Kupang airport in Sau's home province of East Nusa Tenggara on Feb. 17, 2018. (Photo by Joy Christian/AFP)
Malaysia's justice system has come under fire after a judge threw out a case last week involving the torture and death of an Indonesian maid who had been working on the island of Penang
without proper documentation. Malaysians want an explanation for the decision on April 18 to free the alleged killer of Adelina Jerima Sau, a suspected victim of human trafficking
who was found in February last year covered with bruises and burn marks. The woman, who was 21, was rescued from her employer's home after a neighbor reportedly saw her sleeping on the porch for days on end with the family's dog. However, she died of multiple organ failure at Seberang Jaya Hospital within 24 hours. Her employer, 59-year-old Ambika M.A. Shan, was arrested for murder while Shan's daughter, R. Jayavartiny, was charged with hiring a maid without a valid work permit.
A hearing scheduled for this April 19, or Good Friday, was brought forward one day and Shan was granted a full acquittal. Sau's family and legal representatives were allegedly not informed of the changed date. This sparked an online petition over the Easter weekend as Malaysians demanded #JusticeForAdelina
. The campaign had garnered close to 15,000 signatures as of April 24. When Sau was found, her head and face were swollen and covered in wounds. The horrific nature of the case made headlines and sparked diplomatic tension between Indonesia and Malaysia. But Penang's High Court dropped the murder charge against Shan last week without providing any explanation. Tenaganita
, a local NGO, said it learned of the acquittal through an article in a local Chinese-language newspaper on April 19. Malaysian human rights lawyer Eric Paulsen has called the decision "shocking and unacceptable." "This was one of the most public and harrowing abuse cases ever recorded, and yet the attorney-general's chambers somehow saw fit to drop the charge," Paulsen, a member of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, told foreign media. Steven Sim, an MP based in the area where Sau died, said the court's decision was "as tragic as the death of Adelina." He said Malaysian Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had vowed to look into the case. Meanwhile, Indonesia's consul-general in Penang, Iwanshah Wibisino, has demanded a full explanation from Malaysian authorities. Wibisino said Jakarta must be apprised of all the facts as "we have to give an explanation to Sau's family in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, on the case and why it was dropped," state news agency Bernama reported on April 21
. In Indonesia, Wahyu Susilo, an executive director at NGO Migrant Care, condemned the acquittal and described it as "far from justice." Some sources claim one of the reasons the case collapsed is because key witnesses, including Sau's parents, failed to attend the trial. Tenaganita said this was misleading at best as neither Sau's family nor legal team had been notified that the court hearing had been brought forward.
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