The 10-year prison term for a couple previously sentenced to death for fatally starving their Cambodian domestic helper is unacceptable and may hurt Malaysia’s image for migrant workers, said human rights group Tenaganita.
The group’s executive director Glorene Das said while Tenaganita opposes the death penalty, the leniency of the sentence failed to reflect the barbaric abuse the couple inflicted on the Cambodian.
The 148 cm-tall Mey Sichan was found dead at a shoplot in Bukit Mertajam on April 1, 2012.
She weighed only 26.1kg and had bruises and lacerations on her body.
“There needs to be a stronger sentence for ending a human life, this 10-year sentence sets a precedence that would give opportunities to irresponsible employers to abuse and torture their domestic workers,” Glorene said when contacted by the Malay Mail.
On Thursday, the Federal Court convicted Soh Chew Tong, 48, and his 45-year-old wife Chin Chui Ling of the lesser charge of culpable homicide and sentenced the couple to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The ruling overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision in 2015 to reinstate the murder charge against the two and sentence both to death.
The couple’s lawyer also said the two would only have to serve another four-and-half years of the term with remission for good behaviour, as they have already been in custody for three years following their initial conviction.
Glorene said the reduction could send the wrong message about the Malaysian justice system’s commitment to punishing those who abused their domestic helpers.
“More years should be added to their sentence, and their assets should be frozen,” she suggested.
“Is the criminal justice system treating this case lightly because a domestic worker is not recognised as a worker but as a servant and maid!?” she asked.
The reduced sentence also comes just as Cambodia plans to resume sending its citizens here to work as domestic workers in March, after a six-year moratorium due to reports of abuse involving Malaysian employers.
She said that with nearly 40,000 potential employers trying to hire maids here, the country must demonstrate its duty towards the rights and welfare of migrant workers in order to continue attracting the group.
Women’s Aid Organisation communications officer Tan Heang-Lee said domestic workers like Mey were especially vulnerable to abuse due to their physical and social isolation.
“This case shows the severity of migrant domestic worker abuse and how such abuse can lead to death. We must treat migrant domestic workers with dignity and respect. They have the right to live and work free from violence just like us,” she said.
“Many barriers prevent domestic workers from reporting abuse, such cases are greatly under-reported.”
She urged the authorities to create additional safeguards for domestic workers such as legislation specific to the group.
Tan also said the source countries could push for such measures with formal and enforceable agreements instead of just the memoranda of understanding that are common now.
Separately, Malaysian Maid Employers Association president Engku Ahmad Fauzi Engku Muhsein said such cases painted Malaysia in a bad light and could potentially jeopardise further collaborations with other countries.
“We cannot tolerate this kind of abuse, not only does it hurt others but it reflects badly on the country,” he said.