Kuwait court sentences couple to death in Filipina maid’s murder

Lebanese man and Syrian wife sentenced in absentia for killing Joanna Demafelis, who had gone missing in September 2016.

Filipina maid death in Kuwait
Demafelis' death sparked outrage in the Philippines [File: Erik De Castro/Reuters]

A court in Kuwait has sentenced a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging over the murder of their Filipina maid whose body was found stuffed in a freezer in the Gulf state earlier this year. 

The couple, who were detained in February and later convicted for killing Joanna Demafelis, 29, was handed the death penalty by the Kuwaiti Criminal Court, local media reported on Sunday

“The court has ruled in absentia to punish the defendants by hanging on the charges they were assigned to,” the court documents, obtained by al-Rai newspaper, read.

Demafelis went missing in September 2016, and her body was found on February 6 in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait City, where it had reportedly been kept for more than a year.

After the discovery, her employers – Nader Essam Assaf and his wife Mona Hassoun – reportedly fled Kuwait for Syria. 

Following an Interpol manhunt, Assaf, a Lebanese national, was detained by Syrian authorities and handed over to Lebanon, while his Syrian wife remained in custody in Damascus.

The two, who were found guilty later in March, can appeal the death penalty sentence. 

Diplomatic tensions

Demafelis had left for Kuwait in 2014 hoping to earn enough to support her family.

Her death prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to order a ban on the further deployment of Filipino workers to Kuwait, triggering diplomatic tensions.

Duterte had vowed to seek justice for Demafelis and other Filipino workers being abused by their employers abroad.

He also dispatched commercial aeroplanes to Kuwait to bring back to the Philippines all Filipino domestic workers who wanted to return.

However, Kuwaiti officials have criticised the Filipino worker ban, saying Duterte’s statements have only served to complicate the situation further.

Renato Villa, the Philippine ambassador to Kuwait, previously told Al Jazeera that he received almost 6,000 complaints of abuse towards Filipino workers in 2017 alone.

Source: Al Jazeera