HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong woman pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to 20 charges of abusing her Indonesian domestic helper in a landmark case, with pictures of her bruised body prompting international outrage at the treatment of maids in the Asian financial centre.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has denounced her treatment as torture.
Former beautician Law Wan-tung, 44, arrived at the court in sunglasses, a black hat and a surgical mask, surrounded by four female friends dressed in identical clothing, apparently to deflect attention from the defendant.
Law pleaded not guilty to charges including inflicting grievous bodily harm, criminal intimidation and failing to pay wages. The court ordered a pre-trial review to begin on July 10. Within half an hour, she walked out of the court, accompanied by her lawyers and the four women, and was driven away.
Law is accused of assaulting domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih and two other maids, also from Indonesia. The charges also include failure to pay her wages.
About 20 domestic helpers and an employer gathered outside the court, holding banners and waving portraits of Erwiana and chanting: “Justice for Erwiana,” and “We are not slaves”.
Eni Lestari, a spokeswoman for the group Justice for Erwiana, said: “We will fight all the way to the end until Erwiana gets justice. We want to give a lesson to employers. We are not slaves. We are also human.”
She said she had received a text message from Erwiana after Law entered her plea, saying: “I feel sad. When will justice be given to me?”
Erwiana left Hong Kong in January for Indonesia, where doctors said burns on her body were caused by boiling water.
Photographs of her battered face and body sparked accusations on the Internet of “modern-day slavery”.
While cases of such harsh treatment are rare, Hong Kong’s policies on migrant workers have made maids reluctant to report abuse for fear of losing their livelihoods and being deported.
Maids are paid a minimum wage equivalent to about 520 U.S. dollars, an attractive sum for women fleeing poverty in other Asian countries.
In April, Time magazine named Erwiana in its 100 Most Influential People alongside Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. singer Beyonce.
Reporting By Nikki Sun and Stefanie McIntyre; Editing by Ron Popeski