A domestic worker action group has criticised the early release of a former employer who abused Indonesian domestic worker, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, as “salt to the wound of injustice” on Thursday.

“It is a sham and an insult to justice,” wrote Justice for Erwiana and All Migrant Domestic Workers Committee (J4EMDW) in a statement. “Three years of jail time is definitely not enough in the face of the gravity of [Law Wan-tung’s] crime.”

Domestic worker group Justice for Erwiana
Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

Law Wan-tung had been serving a six-year jail term after being found guilty in 2015 of assaulting Sulistyaningsih and another domestic worker. The former employer had been ordered to pay HK$809,430 by the District Court as compensation for Sulistyaningsih’s injuries, though she has yet to pay the sum to the Justice Department, the Committee said.

Law was released a few months ago having served only half of her jail sentence, according to the Justice Department. She is reportedly under supervision until her jail term ends. No reason has been given for the early release.

‘Not even adequate’

Speaking via an audio recording, Sulistyaningsih said that she felt disappointed by the early release: “The six-year sentence is not even adequate for the terrible crimes that she committed against me and other victims,” she said.

“As a human being with a heart [who] does not wish to hold resentment, it is my hope that Law Wan-tung can admit to her wrongdoing, apologise to her victims and resolve never to do to the same thing to anyone ever again,” she added.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.
Erwiana Sulistyaningsih. Photo: Adrian Lo.

Sulistyaningsih previously said that she has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression caused by Law’s abuse.

Tutik Lestari Ningish, an Indonesian former employee of Law, said that she believes her safety has been compromised by the early release and has asked the government to guarantee her safety while her abuser remains in Hong Kong.

Ningish was subject to false imprisonment and assault while employed by Law as a domestic worker from April 2010 to March 2011. Law was ordered to pay HK$170,000 in damages in February to her but has not yet paid the sum, Ningish said.

A systemic issue

The group said that Law’s failure to pay back the legal expenses owed to the Justice Department is a burden on the taxpayer.

Law Wan-tung Erwiana
Law Wan-tung, convicted of abusing domestic workers Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and two other domestic workers. Apple Daily.

“The simple fact that Ms. Law hasn’t paid a single dime for the medical bills [to Sulistyaningsih] shows how little remorse or regret she has to her actions,” said League of Social Democrats chair and activist Avery Ng. He said that the absence of a reason for Law’s early release from the correctional department was a down to a systemic issue.

The early release fails to deliver proper justice, Cynthia Abdon-Tellez, a spokesperson for NGO the Mission for Migrant Workers, told HKFP: “How can comprehensive justice be given to migrant domestic workers when even a popular case of injustice and abuse like this has not been completed?” she said.

Eni Lestari, spokesperson for advocacy group the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, said that the release does not serve as a deterrent to other abusive employers: “She is never going to think that she has committed a crime,” she said.

Avery Ng
League of Social Democrats chair and activist, Avery Ng. Photo: Jennifer Creery/HKFP.

The case garnered headlines internationally when images of Sulistyaningsih bruised and battered emerged in 2014. Sulistyaningsih went on to become the face of a movement advocating reforms for the more than 300,000 foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong.

J4EMDW is a coalition of groups formed by the Network of Indonesian Migrant Workers in Hong Kong, the Asian Migrants’ Coordinating Body, and the International Migrants Alliance – Hong Kong & Macau Chapter.

Correction 7.12.2021: A previous version of this story misstated that Law was found guilty of assaulting three domestic workers and was ordered to pay HK$809,430 in damages to the victims. She was guilty of assaulting two and was acquitted of charges related to a third one. She was ordered to pay HK$809,430 to Erwiana Sulistyaningsih.

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.