Wife of suspect in Joanna Demafelis murder held, says Lebanon
BEIRUT, Lebanon (UPDATED) – The employers of a Filipina maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait were both arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus, a Lebanese judicial official said on Saturday, February 24.
Syrian authorities surrendered Nader Essam Assaf to Beirut on Friday because of his Lebanese citizenship but his Syrian wife Mona Hassoun remains in custody in Damascus, the official said.
The murder of Joanna Demafelis sparked outrage in the Philippines and prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to impose a departure ban for Filipinos planning to work in Kuwait.
In a statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said they have already been informed by the Philippine Embassy in Kuwait about the arrest of Hassoun.
"Secretary [Alan Peter] Cayetano, at the same time, assured that with the two suspects now in custody, the DFA and the Department of Labor and Employment will follow President Duterte’s instructions to vigorously pursue justice for Demafelis," added the DFA.
The 29-year-old's body, which allegedly showed signs of torture, was found earlier this month inside a freezer in the abandoned apartment unit of the detained couple.
The couple have been the subject of an Interpol manhunt since Demafelis's body was found more than a year after her family reported her missing.
"The couple were arrested in Damascus. They were the subject of an Interpol red notice and the Syrian authorities handed the husband over to Lebanese custody on Friday morning," the official said.
"Syria kept custody of the wife because she is a Syrian national," he added.
"Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on the husband's police record."
The official said that after leaving Kuwait, the couple had made a very brief stopover in Lebanon before travelling on to neighboring Syria.
Duterte has vowed to bring justice to Demafelis's family, lashing out at the Gulf state and alleging Arab employers routinely rape Filipina workers, force them to work 21 hours a day and feed them scraps. (READ: Duterte lashes out at Kuwait over mistreatment of Filipino workers)
Kuwait has said it is investigating reported deaths and abuses, and insisted there were only a small number considering that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in the emirate.
Duterte this week sent a team of labor officials to Kuwait to seek greater protection for migrant workers. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com