Update: “Shocking” Actions by HK Authorities a “Conflict of Interests” says Lawyer.
Erwiana, the Indonesian helper who was allegedly tortured for 8-months by her Hong Kong employer, has been taken against her wishes to the Indonesian consulate after returning to the city this afternoon. Erwiana is visiting Hong Kong for a medical report related to her case. Last week, she accepted an offer of secure accommodation from the NGOs who have been assisting her. She initially resisted police efforts to take her to the consulate but was separated from her father and complied with the Hong Kong authorities after they threatened to deport her.
There were tense scenes and a heavy police presence as Justice for Erwiana Committee members gathered to greet her at the airport chanting “shame on the Indonesian authorities“. As a free, Indonesian citizen, who is not under investigation, Erwiana would normally be entitled to visit the city as a tourist for 30 days.
Activists, reporters and police gathered in Causeway Bay at the Indonesian consulate, where Erwiana arrived just before 6pm.
In the run-up to her visit, the Justice for Erwiana Committee reported that Erwiana felt pressured and threatened by Indonesian authorities, who have attempted to isolate her from the NGOs who have been providing assistance since January. Erwiana’s original recruitment agency was initially expected to care for her during her visit, but Erwiana was uncomfortable with this obvious conflict.
Instead, Erwiana opted to stay in a secure shelter provided by NGO Mission for Migrant Workers, rejecting a direct offer of accommodation by the Indonesian consulate. Tonight, she remains at the consulate where at a protest by supporters is due to be held at 10am tomorrow morning.
Campaigners fear Indonesia may be attempting to control the narrative as an ‘isolated incident’ in order to minimise bad publicity and prevent any challenge to existing rules surrounding migrant workers. Hong Kong authorities may have also enabled an obvious conflict in that Erwiana may choose to sue the consulate further down the line.
Recent reports show that instances of abuse are, in fact, widespread in the territory. Last week, Mission for Migrant Workers reported a surge in calls for assistance. They are now serving 7,653 clients (98.8% of whom are helpers) – a thousand more than last year. Two week ago, a damning report by Liberty Asia and the Justice Centre claimed local human trafficking laws are too narrow, offering no protection for victims of forced labour. Like many helpers, Erwiana was held in debt bondage during her ordeal.
The Indonesian government were heavily involved in supporting a similar case of helper abuse last year. Kartika Puspitasari escaped months of horrifying torture at the hands of her employers, who she successfully sued. She has since been under the care of the consulate in Causeway Bay. Neither the law nor the rules which enabled Kartika’s abuse were challenged.
Erwiana’s court case is adjourned until April 29th. Her alleged tormentor has been released on bail but has to report to the police station three times a week.
The court requested that Erwiana return to the city after a mix-up with her medical records in Java.
Erwiana is travelling with her father, her lawyer, Samsudin Nurseha from the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesia, Karsiwen from the Justice Committee and Riyanti, the friend who first found and helped Erwiana at the airport. She is said to still feel pain and dizziness, but is expected to speak publicly later in the week.
Eni Lestari, spokesperson for the Justice for Erwiana Committe, said Erwiana’s case is “a litmus test that will prove if the Hong Kong government shall really reform policies that gravely impact migrants”. The policies that put domestic workers at risk include “the mandatory live-in policy, two-week rule, and the lack of effective regulation of placement policies”