On the first day of the trial of her former employer Law Wan-tung, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih testified to a full court room that her employer repeatedly beat her with hangers, mops, ladders, and rulers.
The court room let out a collective gasp when Erwiana explained that she was only allowed to sleep for four hours in the afternoon, and was required to work throughout the night. Erwiana said she once fell asleep from exhaustion while vacuuming and was woken by her employer, who forced a vacuum cleaner tube into her mouth and twisted it while it was still running.
“I was tortured,” said Erwiana through a translator.
Erwiana told the court that her employer would often hit her violently on the head with household objects, once hitting her so hard that she blacked out. She also described in detail how last winter her employer stripped her naked, sprayed cold water over and forced her to stand in front of a fan.
Law Wan-Tung, the woman accused of abusing Erwiana and two other domestic workers pleaded not guilty to 20 charges including grievous bodily harm with intent, criminal intimidation, and assault. The defendant pled guilty to one charge for failure to produce a valid insurance policy.
'She threatened to kill my parents back home if I talk about the torture with anyone' Erwiana says former employer threatened her every day
— Meredith McBride (@MeredithJamie) December 8, 2014
The most severe punishment for grievous bodily harm with intent in the District Court is a 7 year prison sentence. Erwiana told the court that Law gave her only slices of bread and rice to eat. When she was so hungry she took extra food from the kitchen, she claimed that her employer punched her so violently that her front teeth cracked.
Erwiana also said that when she was cleaning the air conditioning or ceilings, her employer would sometimes pull her off the ladder onto the floor, causing bruises and lacerations to her shoulders and arms.
After five weeks of working for Law Wan-tung, Erwiana tried to run away because she was not paid her salary and was hungry from inadequate food. She called her employment agency from a secrutiy guards phone. A representative from the agency arrived at the scene and took her back to her employer. Though she worked in Law’s home for eight months, Erwiana claims to never have seen Law’s spouse and said sometimes the beatings would take place in Law’s bedroom so that Law’s two children wouldn’t see.
Defence attorney Graham Harris requested access to technology to show the court CCTV footage at a later point in the trial. The defense also reminded the court and to refrain from discussing details with witnesses at risk of biasing the court.
Outside court, members of the Justice for Erwiana Committee gathered in support of Erwiana, telling journalists that the government has “not budged an inch” in terms of reforming the rules which enable such abuse.
“Erwiana’s case is not an isolated one…. It is regrettable that Hong Kong government has done nothing to improve the luck of migrant domestic workers,” said committee member Eman Villanueva.
— Tom Grundy (@tomgrundy) December 8, 2014
The trial at Wan Chai District Courts is scheduled for 20 days in front of HH Judge Woodcock. Seventeen more witnesses are slated to take the stand for the prosecution, including two more former employees of the defendant who also claim they were physically abused.