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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Couple to hang for murder of Filipina maid in Kuwait

Lebanese man and his Syrian wife fled emirate a year before authorities found the body stuffed in a freezer

Jessica, sister of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her sister's remains at the international airport in Manila on February 16, 2018. Ted Aljibe / AFP
Jessica, sister of Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis whose body was found inside a freezer in Kuwait, cries in front of the wooden casket containing her sister's remains at the international airport in Manila on February 16, 2018. Ted Aljibe / AFP

A Kuwaiti court sentenced a Lebanese man and his Syrian wife to hang for killing a Filipina housemaid, a case that triggered a diplomatic spat between the Philippines and Kuwait.

The couple were convicted in their absence of "murdering the Filipina maid and placing her corpse in the freezer", the Al Qabas newspaper reported on Sunday.

In February, the body of Joanna Daniela Demafelis was found stuffed in a freezer in the couple's flat in Hawally, a residential area of Kuwait with a large expatriate population. She was killed almost a year earlier.

Last week, Nader Essam Assaf, 40, was charged by a south Lebanon prosecutor after confessing to the murder, according to the state-run National News Agency.

His Syrian wife, Mona, is in custody in Damascus, where the couple were arrested a month after the discovery of the corpse.

Under Kuwaiti law their sentences can be appealed.

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Read more:

Both suspects in Kuwait murder of Filipina held

Murder shocks Filipinas in Kuwait, but some vow to stay

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The discovery of Demafelis' body prompted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to order all Filipino workers in Kuwait to return home. Alleging widespread abuse of Filipino expatriates, he also banned citizens from applying for work visas in Kuwait.

Kuwait and the Philippines have since signed a deal to regulate the working conditions of domestic workers.

Cases of abuse have been documented in countries across the Arabian Gulf. A UN report in March said more needed to be done to prevent the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers in the Middle East.

Remittances from Filipinos working abroad serve as a lifeline to the Philippines economy. Often, the minimum wage set for Filipinos in GCC countries is higher than what skilled workers earn in the Philippines, according to government figures.