More questions emerged yesterday about how Indonesian authorities are treating former domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, whose Hong Kong employer is being prosecuted for allegedly abusing her.
Erwiana's supporters yesterday accused Jakarta's Ministry of Foreign Affairs of pressuring her to appoint a lawyer from the Indonesian consulate in Hong Kong. The accusations came a day after they claimed Erwiana was being "held hostage" in the consulate after arriving in Hong Kong to give evidence for the trial.
In a letter seen by the Post, the director for the protection of Indonesian citizens wrote to Erwiana's family on March 24 saying: "The lawyer of the consulate general is of the view that it is necessary … to provide [Erwiana] with legal advice and to [ask her] to give the power of attorney to him/her as her lawyer."
On Sunday, the day before Erwiana flew back to Hong Kong, a ministry representative tried to convince her father to appoint a consulate lawyer, according to Eman Villanueva of the Asian Migrants' Co-ordinating Body.
"Why would they want her to change her lawyer? … We suspect they are trying to do some damage control because of the bad publicity her case generated about Indonesian migrant worker policies," Villanueva said. Consul Rafail Walangitan confirmed the content of the letter sent on March 24, adding the English version given to media was an unofficial translation.
"It is normal procedure for the ministry to offer a lawyer to all nationals who are having problems in foreign countries," he added. "But if anyone doesn't want that option he or she can choose to appoint any lawyer."
Puja Kapai, of the University of Hong Kong's Centre for Comparative and Public Law, said: "It seems as if Erwiana is being treated not as a full adult, but as a person without the competency or capacity to make decisions … As well-intentioned as it may be, it's unfortunate and a bit odd."
After leaving Hong Kong and being admitted to hospital in Indonesia in January, Erwiana authorised the Mission for Migrant Workers to handle her legal affairs in Hong Kong.
Cynthia Ca Abdon-Tellez, head of the mission, said Erwiana had appointed a Hong Kong lawyer, and the organisation was waiting for legal-aid funding to allow it to start civil proceedings.
Erwiana is expected to stay in the city until Sunday.
Her former employer, Law Wan-tung, is charged with causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, common assault, and four counts of criminal intimidation against three helpers. She has been freed on bail until April 29.