Lebanese suspect arrested over Filipina maid's freezer death

Lebanese suspect arrested over Filipina maid's freezer death
One suspect has been arrested over the gruesome death of a Filipina maid in Kuwait, which has escalated a diplomatic rift between the two countries.
2 min read
23 February, 2018
Relatives of Joanna Demafelis await for her body to arrive in Manila [Getty]
One of two suspects accused of killing Filipina maid Joanna Demafelis and stuffing her body in a freezer in an apartment in Kuwait has been arrested.

The Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said that Nader Essam Assaf was detained in Lebanon, but added that his Syrian wife, who is the second suspect, remains at large.

"Assaf's arrest is a critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna and we are thankful to our friends in Kuwait and Lebanon for their assistance," Cayetano said in a statement.

Joanna Demafelis' body was discovered on February 6 in Kuwait City, where it had been kept for more than a year.

She was reportedly employed as a maid by Assaf and his wife.

News of the story sparked outrage in the Philippines and shed further light on the conditions of Filipina maids and other foreign workers in the Gulf states and elsewhere.

Following the news, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte announced a "total ban" on Filipinos taking up new work in Kuwait – a move that heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

After Duterte attended Defamelis' funeral in her hometown of Sara in central Philippines, the leader said the ban could be extended to more countries.

Duterte also lashed out at Kuwait, alleging employers routinely raped their Filipina workers and fed them scraps. "Is there something wrong with your culture? Is there something wrong with your values?" he asked.

Kuwait's foreign minister responded by condemning what they called Manila's "escalation".

The Philipines is a major labour exporter – more than 10 per cent of its 100 million are working abroad. The remittances they send home has propped up the country's economy for decades.

Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have documented widespread abuses against Filipino workers in Kuwait.

Kuwait's employee sponsorship system, called kafala, prevents migrant workers from switching jobs without the permission of their employers.

Every Gulf country uses the kafala system.