Kuwait court sentences couple to death for Filipina’s murder

Relatives of Filipina worker Joanna Demafelis, whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, hold banners as they wait for the arrival of her body from Manila at Iloilo International Airport in central Iloilo province on February 17, 2018
AFP

Kuwait City (AFP) – A Kuwaiti court on Sunday sentenced in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging over the murder of a Filipina maid, a judicial source said.

The court issued the sentence in the first hearing in the case of Joanna Demafelis, the 29-year-old maid whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this year. 

The sentencing can still be appealed if the couple returns to Kuwait, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity. 

The Demafelis murder triggered a diplomatic crisis between Kuwait and the Philippines, prompting Manila to impose a departure ban for its citizens planning to work in the Gulf state.

The Lebanese-Syrian couple was arrested in February in the Syrian capital Damascus following an Interpol manhunt. 

Syrian authorities handed the husband, Nader Essam Assaf, over to Lebanese authorities, while his Syrian wife remained in custody in Damascus. 

An estimated 252,000 Filipinos and Filipinas work in Kuwait and depend on remittances to help their families back home. 

Rights groups have raised alarm around the plight of workers in the Gulf and other Arab countries, where migrant labour is regulated under a system known as “kafala”. 

The kafala, or sponsorship, system ties migrant workers’ visas to their employers, prohibiting workers from leaving or changing jobs without prior consent.

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