x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Woman in prison over rape claim

Migrant rights group says case reinforces its call for consular legal attachés to assist Philippine expatriate workers in court.

ABU DHABI // A migrant rights group has repeated its call to the Philippine government to send legal attachés to the Middle East after a Filipina who complained of rape ended up in an Ajman prison on adultery charges. John Leonard Monterona, the Middle East co-ordinator for Migrante, a Filipino migrant rights group, said the woman, identified as WC, was due in court for a second hearing today, but that the Philippine consulate in Dubai had so far failed to provide a lawyer for her.

"The absence of a legal counsel during her trial may lead to a conviction or her prolonged imprisonment," Mr Monterona said. The case was brought to the attention of Migrante by WC's husband, still in the Philippines, who wrote to the group this month, worried that he had not heard from his wife since April 7. WC, who had arrived in Dubai on March 27 to take up a position as a hotel chambermaid, had wanted to return home when she was made to work as a housemaid instead.

The husband was told by the recruitment agency on April 27 that his wife had made the allegation of rape, but had been "jailed for lying" after a medical examination proved negative for the alleged assault. On the same day, the husband received a phone call from his wife, who told him that she had been raped. Mr Monterona, however, said Migrante had no information yet about the identity of the man involved or the date when the alleged attack took place.

Officials from Ajman police confirmed the case and said they had already referred WC to the public prosecutor. She remains in police custody. The officials, however, declined to provide further details since the case was now being dealt with by the criminal courts. Ahmed Bajunaid, the head of the assistance to nationals section at the consulate in Dubai, said initial reports showed that the Filipina had admitted to allowing an Indian man to enter her room. He said the man was now in jail on trespassing charges.

Between 200 and 300 Filipinos are behind bars in Dubai and the northern Emirates, according to Mr Bajunaid. They include people convicted of theft, as well as drugs and immigration offences. Others have been jailed for bad debts. Last month Migrante and the Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants in Hong Kong asked Manila to supply legal attachés in the Middle East to ensure that Filipinos appearing in court were represented.

Repeating the call, Mr Monterona said that while his organisation welcomed a decision to deploy social welfare attachés in the Middle East next month, Manila should consider sending legal attachés first. About 500 Filipinos were behind bars in the Middle East, with at least 16 on death row. "It makes a difference being accompanied by someone with legal knowledge and expertise on Sharia," he said.

Nasser Munder, the Philippine labour attaché in Abu Dhabi, said 136 Filipinas, mostly housemaids, were being counselled at the Abu Dhabi shelter run by Filipino labour and welfare officers. They had fled their employers after complaining of mistreatment, overwork and not being paid. The Department of Social Welfare and Development in Manila will send the first batch of social welfare attachés to Saudi Arabia and Jordan in June. It is not known when they will be posted to the UAE.

rruiz@thenational.ae With additional reporting by Yasin Kakande