Kuwait City — A Kuwaiti court on Sunday sentenced in absentia a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to death by hanging over the murder of a Filipina maid, a judicial source said.
The court issued the sentence in the first hearing in the case of Joanna Demafelis, the 29-year-old maid whose body was found in a freezer in Kuwait earlier this year. The sentencing can still be appealed if the couple returns to Kuwait, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Demafelis murder triggered a diplomatic crisis between Kuwait and the Philippines, prompting Manila to impose a departure ban for its citizens planning to work in the Gulf state.
The Lebanese-Syrian couple was arrested in February in the Syrian capital Damascus following an Interpol manhunt.
Syrian authorities handed the husband, Nader Essam Assaf, over to Lebanese authorities, while his Syrian wife remained in custody in Damascus.
An estimated 252,000 Filipinos and Filipinas work in Kuwait and depend on remittances to help their families back home.
A senior Philippine government official visiting Kuwa it said Manila will demand the maximum protection of its overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Kuwait, especially the interests and welfare of its domestic helpers, Kuwait Times reported.
Speaking with the local media at the Philippines Embassy in Siddiq on Friday, Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said a labor ‘agreement’ that was signed last week was a result of initial and preliminary talks held in Manila between Kuwaiti and Filipino negotiators.
“The talks were only at the level of the technical working group of negotiators. They will now go back to their principals (their governments),” she said.