Couple sentenced to death for murder of maid found dead in freezer

Joanna Demafelis. Picture from her Facebook page.

A Lebanese man and his Syrian wife have been sentenced to death for killing a Filipina maid and stuffing her body into a freezer.

A Kuwaiti court convicted the pair ‘in absentia’ for the murder of Joanna Demafelis, which triggered a crisis between the Philippines and the Gulf Arab state.


President Duterte last month ordered workers in Kuwait to come home following the discovery of the 29-year-old’s body in the freezer of an abandoned house that belonged to Nader Essam Assaf and his wife Mona.

Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas said the criminal court issued the verdict at its first hearing, convicting the pair of “killing the Filipina worker and putting her body in the freezer”.

The sentences are subject to appeal under Kuwaiti law.


We reported last month that Nader Essam Assaf had been arrested in Lebanon and that authorities were considering a Kuwaiti request to extradite him. It is believed that his wife is being held by the authorities in Syria.

Joanna’s family have welcomed the verdict. Speaking to Rappler today, her brother Joejet said: “That’s our only wish…. If you think about what happened to my sister, they deserve to be sentenced to death, it can’t just be detention.”

He added that a death sentence was one of his prayers when Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle washed his feet on Maundy Thursday last week. “When we were invited for the washing of the feet with Cardinal Tagle, that’s really what we prayed for, that our sister is given justice by sentencing them to death.”

Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has also praised the “swift action taken by Kuwaiti authorities”.

“This is a very important development in our quest for justice for Joanna,” he said.

“We continue to look forward to the cooperation of our friends not only in Kuwait but also in Lebanon and Syria in our efforts to bring this case to a close.”

Kuwait and the Philippines signed an agreement last month regulating some working conditions for domestic workers.

It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 Filipinos working in Kuwait, most of them as domestic helpers.

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