Hong Kong woman faces up to seven years' prison for maid abuse

The lawyer for a Hong Kong woman found guilty of beating and starving her Indonesian maid and keeping her prisoner said she was "not a monster" Friday, as a court prepared to sentence her to up to seven years in prison.

The case sparked international outrage and highlighted the plight of domestic workers in the city.

Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, 24, told a Hong Kong court in December how she lived on nothing but meagre rations of bread and rice, slept only four hours a day and was beaten so badly by her employer Law Wan-tung that she was knocked unconscious.

During the six-week trial, prosecutors said mother-of-two Law, 44, turned household items such as a mop, a ruler and a clothes hanger into "weapons" against her maids.

Law was convicted on 18 of 20 charges laid against her, including grievous bodily harm, assault, criminal intimidation and failure to pay wages.

In court Friday, defence lawyer Graham Harris emphasised Law's charity work and role as a mother.

"She is not the callous monster which is the picture painted in relation to this particular case," he said before the hearing was adjourned until later Friday for the judge to consider the mitigation plea.

She was "obsessed with cleanliness" and had high expectations of her staff, he said.

"The case was very high-profile publicity, not only in Hong Kong but all over the world," Harris added. "She's been vilified, she's been demonised, she's been ostracised."

- 'We are not slaves' -

Sulistyaningsih was in court for the sentencing, wearing a black t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of her own face and the word "justice".

Dozens of protesters outside the court shouted: "We are workers, we are not slaves," before the hearing began.

"The case is a way to ask the government to change their policies for domestic helpers," said 63-year-old domestic worker Dolores Dayao.

"I hope she gets the maximum sentence."

Sulistyaningsih has said she has forgiven Law but hopes her former employer will receive the greatest possible sentence, "even though for me, that is still not enough compared to what she did to me and other victims".

She welcomed the court's guilty verdict earlier this month, but called for reforms to ensure Hong Kong employers no longer treated domestic workers "like slaves".

Sulistyaningsih has also said that Indonesia must not shirk its responsibilities to protect its citizens who travel abroad to work.

Pictures of Sulistyaningsih looking frail and emaciated, in a critical condition at an Indonesian hospital in January last year after she left Hong Kong, focused the spotlight on domestic helpers' rights.

The city is home to nearly 300,000 maids, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines, and criticism from campaign groups over their treatment is growing.

Amnesty International in 2013 condemned the "slavery-like" conditions faced by thousands of Indonesian women who work as domestic staff and accused authorities of "inexcusable" inaction.

The court is expected to reconvene at 0330 GMT.