Six Hong Kong police and labour officers set off for Indonesia on Monday morning as a criminal investigation into the alleged torture of a maid by her Hong Kong employer got underway.
The police said they were “highly concerned” about the case involving 23-year-old Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, and the next step would be to determine whether her former Hong Kong employer had committed any offences, justifying an arrest. The domestic worker alleges she was beaten, burned and tortured over eight months while she was working for them.
“With the assistance of local police, we will meet with this victim,” said Chief Inspector (Crime) Chung Chi-ming, of Kwun Tong district, at Hong Kong International Airport. "The most important aim of the trip is to take testimony from the victim, and to understand from her doctor the medical condition of her injuries, in the hope of obtaining [a copy of] her medical report for the purposes of our investigation and evidence collection."
Pictures of Sulistyaningsih's injuries spread across social media, sparking anger among Indonesians in Hong Kong and at home.
But the police had obtained "not much evidence" from the Indonesian consulate-general so far and most of its knowledge about the case was from the media, said Chung, who is part of the six-people team of four police and two labour officers.
Sulistyaningsih is being treated in a hospital at a Sragen, Java, where she is recovering.
Chung said he would not consider video-recording to collect evidence as the local officers had “no knowledge” of the case, so far still based on accounts “everyone hears” from Indonesia.
Veronica Chan Kar-wing, of the Labour Department’s employment claims investigation unit, said: “The Labour Department is also highly concerned about this case of serious deprivation of a foreign domestic helper’s rights.”
She said she could collect evidence of any breaches of the Employment Ordinance.
Meanwhile, speaking to Hongkong media from her hospital bed, Erwiana said: “I feel a bit better now.”
Asked about her condition, she pointed to her head and said: “Still painful…beaten by employer, sometimes with hangers, sometimes with [a] vacuum cleaner.”
“I had thought of running away but the door was often locked. The telephone was also locked up,” said Erwiana.
She said she would never work in Hongkong again but, if needed, she would return to the territory to help police investigation and testify in court.
The case has sparked wide public concerns in Indonesia and some local lawyers are volunteering to help the family.
Speaking through an interpreter, her father said he would sue the local employment agency for compensation.
Her father said: “We are seeking help from lawyers. We want compensation to cover Erwiana’s medical fees. And the Hongkong employment agency should also be held responsible.”
“It is a heartbreaking incident. Before Erwiana went to Hongkong, she was pretty and nice and cheerful. We don’t know what [the Hongkong employer] had done to her to make her like this now,” said her father, who is a farmer.
The family said Erwiana had opted to work in Hongkong because they heard that Hongkong people were friendly.
On Sunday, Indonesian maids and supporters took to the street in a protest to demand justice for Erwiana. According to Hong Kong police, some 2,100 took part. Organisers estimated the figure was closer to 5,000.
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said at a Legislative Council security panel meeting on Monday morning that the government made special arrangements in investigating Erwiana’s case.
“Usually we would not send any personnel abroad but this time it’s different; we sent four police officers, and also for the first time two officials from the Labour Department there [to Indonesia],” Lai said.
“This illustrates the government will spare no effort in investigating cases of this kind.”
When asked by lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing what message the government would like to convey on this case which has attracted international attention, Lai said the contribution of the 300,000 foreign domestic workers to the territory deserved recognition.
“Many Hong Kong families depend on these foreign workers to take care of their children and elderly, it is very important that we can live in harmony,” he said, adding that leaflets in the foreign workers’ native languages are available to them on arrival with information on how they can seek help.