A married couple in Singapore are on trial for subjecting their Myanmar maid to brutal abuse, including forcing her to drink floor cleaner and pour hot water over herself. The several charges against the couple were read out at their first court appearance on Monday.
Linda Seah Lei Sie, 38, and her husband Lim Toon Leng, 43, allegedly abused Myanmar national Phyu Phyu Mar several times throughout 2016. Ms. Seah faces six charges, including for allegedly grabbing Phyu Phyu Mar by her hair and “shaking her until quite a lot of her hair fell out,” forcing her to pour hot water over her own body, and forcing her to drink water mixed with floor cleaner.
Mr. Lim is accused of punching Phyu Phyu Mar twice on the forehead on Oct. 13, 2016.
The alleged abuse came to light the following day, when Phyu Phyu Mar appeared at a beauty salon owned by Mr. Lim, where an employee named Lee Lee Yen saw her swollen and bruised face.
Ms. Seah had previously instructed the staff not to speak to Phyu Phyu Mar because it “irritated” her, so Ms. Lee discreetly asked how she could help the maid. Phyu Phyu Mar told Ms. Lee to tell Ms. Seah to stop treating her unkindly because she wanted to continue working for the family. Rather than speaking to Ms. Seah, Ms. Lee called the police.
Ms. Lee, who now works elsewhere, said that before their Oct. 2016 exchange, Phyu Phyu Mar had told her that she had no food to eat.
“She was hungry…I secretly gave her some biscuits and a drink,” Ms. Lee told the court, adding that Phyu Phyu Mar had visibly lost weight while working for the Lim family.
Another employee of the Lim family named Maggie told the court on Monday that on a separate occasion, she had asked a stranger report allegations of abuse against Phyu Phyu Mar.
Ms. Seah’s lawyer has argued that Phyu Phyu Mar’s weight loss may have been the result of her own desire to “reduce her size” and that her injuries may have been self-inflicted.
Phyu Phyu Mar is expected to testify against her former employer in the second stage of the trial in April.
If convicted, Seah and Lim face up to three years in prison jail and a fine of up to S$7,500 per charge of maid abuse.
In 2014, the Myanmar government temporarily banned domestic workers from seeking work in Singapore following several high-profile abuse cases.
In addition to abuse cases, there was also a widely publicized case in June 2017 when a Myanmar maid was caught on video jumping to her death from the Interlace Condo. In another case two months later, a Myanmar maid tried to poison her employer’s mother-in-law in the hope that the behavior would get her sent back to Myanmar.
The Myanmar government vowed in June 2017 to lift the domestic worker ban on Singapore.