TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Government Could Be Sued Over Maid Abuses, Says Top Rights Lawyer

Indonesian migrant workers, from left, Khasmira and Mimi protest the alleged abuse of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih in Hong Kong on Jan. 19, 2014 Per Liljas

The man who advised NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden calls it a clear case

Sundays are the days that Hong Kong’s domestic workers become most visible, as they leave their employers’ apartments to gather together in their thousands on overpasses and sidewalks, enjoying a day off. On Jan. 19, however, the normally jovial atmosphere was made more somber as around 2,000 domestic workers demonstrated for better conditions and legal safeguards.

“We are workers, we are not slaves,” they chanted, wearing headbands that read “Justice for Erwiana.”

The case of Erwiana Sulistyaningsih — an Indonesian maid allegedly abused by her Hong Kong employer — came to light more than a week ago and has shocked many with its brutality. The employer was arrested Monday attempting to flee the city.

Many of Erwiana’s peers are now calling for better legal safeguards like scrapping a law that requires maids to live with their employers — a requirement seen as making domestic workers vulnerable to overwork as well as sexual and physical abuse.

Indonesian domestic workers would also like to see the ending of a recruitment system that requires them — unlike their Filipina counterparts — to find employment only through an agency. That system, they say, exposes them to unscrupulous middlemen who levy exorbitant charges and insist that maids stay with abusive employers until the women have worked off their debts.

Sunday’s march was organized by an alliance of advocates for migrant workers’ rights, who have since launched the initiative HK Helpers Campaign. Khasmira, a 32-year-old domestic worker on the march, says Erwiana’s case has unsettled her. “It’s scary, because next time it could be one of us,” she says.

Local residents also took part in the demonstration. “I’m here to show my solidarity, support and outrage,” said 29-year-old Hongkonger Billy Leung as the protest reached the city’s main government offices. “I grew up with a domestic helper doing the cooking and taking me to school, we had a close connection. I’m shocked and sad to see what happened to Erwiana, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”

(MORE: Beaten and Exploited, Indonesian Maids Are Hong Kong’s ‘Modern-Day Slaves’)

Erwiana has declared that she will take legal action against her former employer. Rights lawyer Robert Tibbo, who advised National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden when he briefly holed up in town after fleeing the U.S., believes Erwiana also has grounds for suing the government for failing to provide her with proper protection.

“There is enough evidence out there to show that helpers are in a vulnerable position and that there is ongoing abuse,” Tibbo tells TIME. “The most telling and shocking issue is that Erwiana went through the immigrations channel at the airport without being properly asked what had happened to her. It was quite clear that she had been tortured, in which case government staff have a duty to assist her.”

Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, the Secretary for Labor and Welfare, says that the Hong Kong government is very concerned about Erwiana’s case, and that two police officers have been sent to Indonesia on Monday to interview her.

“We will certainly step up regulation,” he stated in a press release. “We will certainly step up enforcement action and, particularly, inspection of employment agencies.”

(MORE: Hong Kong Employer May Have Tortured Second Maid)

Although it is more extreme than most, the past few days have shown that Erwiana’s case is far from isolated. Two more maids have testified of similar abuse at the hands of the very same employer, the latest allegations presented in a front-page story in the local newspaper the Standard on Monday.

Commentators and netizens in Indonesia have lamented the plight of workers abroad and called for action. “Future employers of Indonesian migrant workers have to be psychologically tested first,” said one Twitter user:

In an op-ed for Kompasiana.com, Iwan Piliang called female Indonesian migrant workers “foreign-exchange sacrificial lambs,” referring to the $7.4 billion in remittances they sent home in 2013. The money is tempting. A shop assistant can earn many times her salary by working as a maid in Hong Kong, where almost a third of the 512,000 Indonesians working overseas are found. So long as that is the case, the risk of abuse will continue.

— With reporting by Yenni Kwok / Hong Kong

TIME Internet

The 20 Best Worst Things That Have Been Said About Me on YouTube

As the debates over free speech vs. hate speech on the internet gets hotter, a TIME writer shares some of her favorite online insults.

+ READ ARTICLE

Amanda Hess knows it’s not always fun to be female on the internet. She has firsthand experience of the vitriol that women who post online tend to attract. The piece she wrote about this for Pacific Standard magazine has gotten a lot of attention, particularly from men who said they were surprised at the sheer volume of invective aimed at women in comments sections and on social media.

Hess writes about male/female relations, a subject which can really rattle people’s chains, so she has had actual stalkers. One of them created a Twitter account specifically to harass her. But while angry Tweeters can be pretty awful, I find that when it comes to having bad things said about you over the old interwebs, it’s hard to best YouTube. The comments section of the video channel is like a Museum For Everybody’s Worst Self.

I’ve mostly stopped reading the comments—I have three brothers, so if I need insults I can go to people who really know me for them. But I’ve kept a list of my favorites, which I will share with you, below.

“Why did they ask a girl who is 1000 years old to ask him questions?”

“That has got to be the ugliest reporter i have ever seen in my life”

“that woman looks like Ozzy Ozbourne”

“That interviewer looks like Gollum with hair.”

“SHE LOOKS LIKE A F—ING CORPSE!!!”

“Whats up with that crusty old Time b—h? Could she be any more crusty and b—hy with those questions? wow and they pay her for that.”

“What a stupid COW. Where did they DIG up this interviewer? Did she take a big bottle of STUPID PILLS before this interview?”

“How did this f—ing dumb-ass, unpleasant-looking reporter ever get this job? gross.”

“There’s only one nuts person in that room and she’s asking the effing questions!”

“Another mainstream media prozac-head hack journalist spewing the usual laughably vomit-worthy loaded rhetorical bullsh–.”

“Interviewers a c–t”

“I know this is wrong, but I would totally f–k that woman interviewing Robin. I’d make that mouth stop twitching!”

“God that interviewer has GOT to get layed”

“Hey “TIME”: Pick on someone who can prison-rape you at your own game, you stupid pieces of mediocrity.”

“I think “one last kill” would go well on that reporter….for Old Time Sakes! llol, (just kidding of course)”

“[He] should have punched her in the face after the first question.”

“This lady should hang her self, so annoying get a new job biatch”

“[He] should pity f— this b—–.”

“Ugh!!! Up-speak! Kill the witch, kill her!”

“This f—ing lesbian cat lady b—h wants some fat c–k. Useless dried up c–t.”

Weren’t there any nice comments you ask? Well, there was this one:

“Why do people on YouTube always go for mindless put-downs? Belinda Luscombe (the interviewer) is “bad” in what way? I stumbled on to this after seeing her interview other people, and her questions seem intelligent. You don’t like how she looks, or something?”

I should probably get that one embroidered on a pillow.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,990 other followers