Erwiana Sulistyaningsih

Tortured Hong Kong helper Erwiana’s former employer claims her injuries were self-inflicted

After refusing to take to the witness box during the criminal trial that saw her jailed for six years, former employer hits out at Erwiana Sulistyaningsih during civil trial

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 December, 2017, 10:02pm

Tortured Indonesian former domestic worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih was back in a Hong Kong court on Monday to claim more than HK$809,000 from her abusive employer – who claimed for the first time in court that the injuries she sustained were self-inflicted.

Testifying for her injuries claim, the helper, who flew back from her native Indonesia, told the District Court that she was still haunted by her past, despite it being more than three years since she was a victim of torture by her former boss, Law Wan-tung.

“I still feel the hatred against my previous employer [and wonder] why she did the violence to me at the time,” she said, adding that she still suffered from trembling and felt nervous from time to time when reminded of the past.

But countering the claims, Law revealed in her own words for the first time what could have been a defence during the criminal trial that saw her jailed in 2015.

She said the former helper’s injuries were self-inflicted or due to pre-existing conditions – something she declined to say during the earlier criminal trial.

“One needs a clear conscience when one does things. Only heaven knows, you know and I know,” she went on to say, repeatedly turning to glare at the helper.

She said she felt “disadvantaged” that she did not tell the court her side of the story during the criminal trial earlier.

The civil division of the District Court on Monday was charged with the task of deciding how much in damages Law would have to pay her former helper. A judgment handed down two months after Law’s conviction in 2015 already ruled she would be liable to pay.

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Law was found guilty of 18 assault and labour-related charges on February 10, 2015 on Erwiana and another helper, Tutik Lestari Ningsih, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

She assaulted Erwiana during her employment between May in 2013 and January 9 the following year. On one occasion, she inserted the tube of a vacuum cleaner into the helper’s mouth and twisted it, causing cuts to her lips.

The HK$809,430 the helper is seeking includes damages for her physical injuries and psychological conditions, according to her lawyer Tony Ko’s opening speech. The helper, who is now studying management at a university in Indonesia, has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder.

Eriwana is also suing for loss of earnings, her future earning capacity and medical expenses, as well as some aggravated damages. Her counsel said Law breached the trust his client placed on her in the gruesome and violent repeated incidents over a span of seven months and deprived her of basic human and medical needs.

Testifying on Monday, Erwiana said her situation had improved. “But if someone asked me about my past, I would still remember it and it would never disappear,” she said.

But Law said when Erwiana was employed by her, the helper once told her that she suffered from a vitamin B deficiency condition, for which Erwiana would become incontinent. She accused the helper of defecating on her bed once, and said she would faint easily. On one occasion, she said, the helper broke her toilet.

“She had a relapse at my home … She blamed me for that, saying I tortured her, causing all these injuries,” she said.

Abusive Erwiana employer will find it tough fending off civil claim, Hong Kong judge says

She denied assaulting the helper with the vacuum cleaner tube, saying that even holding it up in her low-ceilinged flat would have been impossible. For the skin injuries, she accused the helper of peeling her own skin.

She even invited members of the press in the court to look at the helper’s Facebook. She said it contained photographs of Erwiana travelling and attending a wedding party after the assault, as though she was happy and rich.

“The law of Hong Kong does not protect Hong Kong people,” she also said after the presiding judge rejected her last-minute request.

Claiming to be too poor to hire a lawyer, Law appeared for herself and made an application to judge Winnie Tsui Wan-wah on Monday to submit Erwiana’s medical records and witness statements from the criminal trial. She said it would show the helper’s account was inconsistent, and that Erwiana was less seriously injured than she claimed.

But Tsui rejected her request, saying that she failed to justify in detail why it was relevant apart from making a general observation. She noted Law, who claimed to be illiterate in English, was legally represented until last month, even though she was speaking for herself on Monday.

The judge said she would hand down the judgment on a later date.