Syrian court finds Joanna Demafelis' employer guilty of murder

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Over a year since the remains of overseas Filipino worker Joanna Demafelis returned to the Philippines in a wooden crate, a Syrian court found her former employer guilty in her murder.

"The DFA-Office of the Undersecretary for Migrant Workers' Affairs reports that the Syrian District Criminal Court found Mouna Ali Hassoun, accused in the Joanna Demafelis case, guilty of murder," the Department of Foreign Affairs announced Monday, September 9.

A couple in Kuwait: Hassoun, along with her Lebanese husband Nader Essam Assaf, were accused of killing Demafelis, whose corpse was kept in a freezer in an abandoned apartment in Kuwait for nearly two years.

Demafelis body arrived in the Philippines in February 2018. (READ: 'A national shame': The death and homecoming of Joanna Demafelis)

Hassoun's verdict comes over a year after a Kuwaiti court in April 2018 sentenced her and her Lebanese husband Nader Essam Assaf, in absentia, to death by hanging over Demafelis' murder.

The Lebanese-Syrian couple were arrested in the Syrian capital of Damascus following an Interpol manhunt in February 2018. But while Syrian authorities handed over Assaf to Lebanese authorities, they kept custody of Hassoun since she was a Syrian citizen.

The DFA said Hassoun is expected to receive a prison sentence ranging from 8 to 15 years. Assaf, meanwhile, faces murder charges in Lebanon where his trial is still ongoing.

Philippine response: Responding to the guilty verdict, Foreign Secretary Teodoro "Teddyboy" Locsin Jr tweeted "There you go. Judge didn't buy the defense."

"They're gonna get it," he added.

The DFA gave assurances it would continue to provide legal assistance to Demafelis' family "until justice is served."

Demafelis' murder earlier triggered a diplomatic crisis between the Philippines and Kuwait, prompting Manila to impose a total deployment ban for its citizens planning to work in the Gulf state. The ban was only lifted after the arrest of Demafelis' employers and the signing of an agreement ensuring the protection of Filipino workers in Kuwait. – with reports from Agence France-Presse / Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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