Trial date for Malaysian charged with maid abuse

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 January, 2008, 12:00am

A Malaysian housewife who was charged with abusing her Indonesian maid, in a case that made headlines around the world, has been ordered to enter her defence this month after a court saga spanning four years.

The maid, Nirmala Bonat, has alleged that her former employer, Yim Pek Ha, 37, attacked her with an iron and scalded her with boiling water as punishment for being slow at work.

'I have suffered enough. I want to go home and never come back,' said Ms Bonat, now in her twenties, after a Kuala Lumpur judge on Thursday ordered Yim to enter her defence on four counts of causing grievous harm.

The judge, Akhtar Tahir, ruled there was enough evidence for Yim to have to answer the charges.

'I do not need an expert to tell me the pain Nirmala has suffered. Just looking at the photographs of her injuries is enough,' he said.

He rejected arguments by Yim's lawyers that the injuries were selfinflicted and that Ms Bonat was mentally deranged. 'Nirmala gave consistent and clear evidence that was also supported by police investigations.

'She had to peel off her own skin from an electric iron and clean [the iron] after the accused pressed it on her back,' he said.

Yim's trial will open on January 28. She faces up to 20 years in jail if found guilty. Yim is married with four children and is out on M$100,000 (HK$237,236) bail. Her husband, Hii Ik Tiing, said they would contest the charges.

'We are disappointed, but we will face the trial strongly and hope for the best. My wife is innocent,' he said.

The case made world headlines in 2004 and put the spotlight on the 500,000 foreign maids working in Malaysia, 90 per cent of them Indonesians. Human right activists say they work long hours for low wages and are frequently abused.

Activists hailed the decision as a victory for migrant workers, who they say enjoy little legal protection.

'It is not fair that Nirmala had to wait four years to hear this decision,' said opposition lawmaker Teresa Kok. 'Such long trials are a form of injustice to people like Nirmala.'

Other maids were in a similar predicament, she said. Many were housed in a crowded hostel managed by the Indonesian embassy while awaiting their day in court.