HONG KONG: A former Indonesian maid on Monday told a court for the first time how she was starved, beaten and ritually humiliated by her Hong Kong employers in a case that has sparked international outrage.
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih described in vivid detail how for months on end she lived on nothing but bread and rice, slept only four hours a day and was regularly punched and beaten by her former employer Law Wan-tung.
“I was tortured,” the 23-year-old, dressed in a purple jacket and white woolen jumper, calmly told the packed courtroom through a translator.
“She often hit me, sometimes she would hit me from behind, sometimes she hit me in the front. I was hit so often sometimes I got a headache. She hit me in my mouth [so]I had difficulty breathing,” she added.
In one incident, Sulistyaningsih said she was stripped naked, covered with water and made to stand in front of a fan in the bathroom in the middle of winter.
Law faces 21 charges – also relating to two other former domestic helpers – including grievous bodily harm with intent, criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages.
Dressed in a light brown coat, black trousers and thick rimmed glasses, Law kept her head down as her former maid described her alleged abuse, occasionally shooting her a glance.
Earlier, she had pleaded not guilty to all but one of the charges against her, admitting only that she had failed to arrange insurance for Sulistyaningsih.
Prosecutors allege the 44-year-old mother-of-two used a mop, vacuum cleaner and a clothes hanger as “weapons” against Sulistyaningsih during eight months of abuse.
“She put a vacuum cleaner into my mouth, and twisted it round my lips. It was bleeding and very painful,” the former maid said, adding that Law also pushed her off a ladder.
Pictures of the 23-year-old former maid, who was admitted to a hospital in Indonesia in January emaciated and in a critical condition, sparked outrage as they spread around the world on social media.
The high-profile case drew angry crowds on to the streets of Hong Kong in May calling for better working conditions for domestic helpers and fuelled criticism over their poor treatment.
Hong Kong is home to nearly 300,000 maids, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines.
Amnesty International last year condemned the “slavery-like” conditions faced by some domestic helpers in the southern Chinese city, and accused authorities of “inexcusable” inaction.
On Monday, around 20 members of an organization representing domestic workers in the city staged a protest outside the court, waving signs saying “no to modern day slavery” featuring pictures of Sulistyaningsih.
“Justice for Erwiana” and “we are workers, we are not slaves,” they shouted.