How many deaths, and how many rapes are too many?

Election fever has hit Malaysia hard, but that does not mean that we should ignore the rest of the news happening in the country. Life goes on, and those with good news may want to share it but those who have been wronged need our support.

A few months ago, Indonesian maid Adelina Lisao died, allegedly at the hands of her employers. The main suspect, Ambika MA Khan, is now facing a murder charge.

Adelina was starved, denied medical treatment, and made to sleep on the porch with the family dog. She was treated like an animal, stripped of her dignity and denied her rights as a worker.

Sadly, intervention came too late. Adelina died two days after being sent to the hospital.

Last week, deputy public prosecutor Hamzah Azhan told the court that the case had stalled as he had yet to receive the post-mortem and chemist reports on Adelina’s death. Are some people dragging their feet?

In another incident, it was reported several weeks ago that a “Datin”, Rozita Mohamad Ali, had beat up her maid but was let off with a good behaviour bond.

The maid, Suyanti Sutrinso, suffered massive facial, head and internal injuries. She was left for dead near a monsoon drain, and was so traumatised that she wanted to return to Indonesia even before the investigation into her beating began.

Malaysians were furious at the judge’s verdict, and the courts eventually reversed the decision. Rozita, perhaps sensing the public’s anger, did not turn up for the hearing. When she eventually did turn up, she was told to attend court where she was sentenced to eight years in prison.

While some may be satisfied with Rozita’s punishment, others would like to know how the judge initially let her off with a lighter sentence. Is the quality of the judges in the lower courts questionable, or were there other mitigating factors?

The other pressing question has to do with the authorities’ lack of progress in strengthening the laws pertaining to domestic workers’ rights in Malaysia. Is anything being done, or has it been forgotten?

And if court judgments are reversed because of the public’s reaction, what does it say about the quality of our judges? Is the system at fault?

On April 17, it was reported that a 24-year-old Indonesian maid had escaped her abusive employer in Bukit Indah, Johor, and gone with a friend to lodge a report at the Senai police station.

The 30-year-old investigating officer, reportedly aroused by the maid’s appearance, told her he would accompany her to collect her passport from the employer’s house. Instead, he lured her to a budget hotel on Jalan Belimbing, near Senai, and raped her.

The poor woman lodged another police report, and CCTV footage from the hotel confirmed that the policeman had taken her to one of the rooms.

Senior officers at Bukit Aman have ordered an internal review, while the maid was sent to hospital for examination. If convicted, the policeman could face up to 20 years in jail and a possible whipping.

A few years ago, another Indonesian worker was gang-raped by three policemen at the Bukit Mertajam police station. The unsuspecting woman had hailed a taxi to return home after finishing work at a restaurant. She was taken to the police interrogation room and gang-raped.

What can we deduce from this if policemen themselves are guilty of rape?

When will the authorities sit down with other key players like NGOs which deal with women’s groups, Indonesian authorities, the immigration department, the labour department and the medical fraternity?

How many more deaths can they accept before they act, and how many more rapes will burden their conscience before they strengthen the rights of these workers?

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect that of FMT.