A Malaysian court sentenced a man to death for murdering his Indonesian maid in a landmark verdict hailed by Indonesian diplomats Tuesday as a warning that the abuse of foreign domestic workers must stop.
Ties between Malaysia and neighboring Indonesia have been occasionally strained over incidents in which Indonesian maids working in Malaysia were assaulted or complained of other mistreatment.
In one of the worst cases of abuse, 40-year-old Muntik Bani died last October after police found her beaten, starved and locked in a bathroom following a tip-off by a visitor to her employer’s home.
A High Court on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on Monday convicted A. Murugan, a 36-year-old sugar cane juice seller, of Bani’s murder, said government prosecutor Mohamad Dusuki Mokhtar. It was the first time a Malaysian has been sentenced to death for the killing of an Indonesian maid, Mohamad Dusuki said.
The trial judge ruled that Murugan’s denial that he played any part in his maid’s death was unconvincing and contradicted other evidence, Mohamad Dusuki said.
Prosecutors did not explain specifically why Murugan might have abused his maid, but he acknowledged in court that he would get angry because she was slow in her work. However, he denied ever beating her.
Malaysia imposes a mandatory penalty of death by hanging for murder convictions. Murugan is expected to appeal the verdict, though his lawyer could not immediately be reached Tuesday.
Bani’s death came several months after Indonesia stopped sending maids to Malaysia following other high-profile abuse cases.
Widyarka Ryananta, an official at the Indonesian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, said his government hopes there will be more such convictions following its disappointment last month when a Malaysian was acquitted over the 2007 death of her maid, whose body was found at her home.
“We are happy with this decision. This is a lesson learned for all Malaysians to treat their maids properly,” he said.
Negotiations about resuming the supply of maids to Malaysia are expected to conclude in a few months after both countries agree on measures to improve legal protection for maids, Ryananta said.
Some 230,000 Indonesian women work as maids in Malaysia, making up the majority of the country’s foreign domestic workers. Indonesian officials say hundreds complain every year of mistreatment, overwork and unpaid salaries.