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Woman repeatedly abuses maid, causing her to go blind

Over a period of six months, a woman abused her Indonesian domestic helper by punching her repeatedly, and on one occasion using a clothes hanger to hit her eyes, causing her to permanently lose her sight.

Ummi Kalsum Ali, 43, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to six charges, including voluntarily causing grievous hurt to a maid and ill-treating a maid by neglecting to give her medical attention. Other charges will be taken into consideration during sentencing.

The court heard that the victim, Ms Sugiyem Samad Radimah, 51, started working for Ummi as a domestic helper sometime in August 2019. Ummi had installed a closed-circuit television (CCTV) camera in the kitchen in early 2020 to monitor the victim.

In April 2020, Ummi was displeased with the victim and slapped her face and ears repeatedly. As the maid was not wearing a hijab, the slaps caused her left ear to swell and harden.

Despite observing that Ms Sugiyem’s ear was swollen, Ummi did not provide any medical aid and did not take her to a doctor.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Yang Ziliang said that as a result of the accused’s multiple assaults on the victim’s ear, the victim’s left ear became deformed.

During the same incident in April 2020, Ummi also directly punched both of the victim’s eyes repeatedly. When Ms Sugiyem attempted to shield her eyes from the blows, Ummi grabbed and pulled down one of her hands and continued to punch both the maid’s eyes.

DPP Yang said the helper lost the vision in her right eye after one of the accused’s punches.

Ummi then used her mobile phone and a clothes hanger to hit Ms Sugiyem’s head, shoulder and back. When the victim fell to the ground during the assault, Ummi pulled her ponytail and tried to make her stand. She then continued to hit the victim with a clothes hanger until it broke.

This incident led to Ms Sugiyem completely losing sight in her right eye. A few days later, she told Ummi that she had become blind in her right eye and wanted to see a doctor.

“The accused, however, denied her request to seek medical attention and threatened her that if she left the house, she could no longer return,” said DPP Yang.

Between April 2020 and September 2020, Ummi continued hitting both of the victim’s eyes, despite knowing that she had completely lost vision in her right eye. After one of the assaults, Ms Sugiyem completely lost vision on her left eye.

After becoming completely blind as a result of these assaults, Ms Sugiyem had to touch the walls and floor to feel her way around the house, while continuing to do household chores.

When Ummi realised the victim could not see at all and in order to get her to do certain chores, she would tap Ms Sugiyem with a hanger to warn her against touching certain objects that were dirty and to direct her to wash her hands.

In October 2020, the victim was sent back to Indonesia. Her injuries were eventually discovered after she returned to Semarang. She was then flown back to Singapore to assist in investigations.

Ms Sugiyem weighed 52.8kg on February 2021. Her weight was 76kg in July 2019 when she went through a pre-employment medical check-up mandated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

Ms Sugiyem was also given medical attention in Singapore, but her blindness is irreversible, the court heard.

In several closed-circuit television (CCTV) videos played in court, the victim can be seen crawling on the ground as she tried to make her way around the kitchen. When the victim accidentally touched the accused’s husband, he shouted loudly at her. The court heard that he is not facing any charges.

The case is handled by DPPs Yang and Phoebe Tan, as well as a Ministry of Manpower prosecutor. 

Seeking 10 years’ jail, the DPPs said the victim came to Singapore to work and earn an honest living, but was unfortunately subjected to prolonged physical abuse.

Defence lawyer Sui Yisiong of Harry Elias Partnership argued that there were CCTV videos that showed the victim may not have been completely blind.

Senior District Judge Bala Reddy said the accused had already admitted to the victim being irreversibly blind, and asked if the accused was saying that the victim was acting in the CCTV videos. Mr Sui said the victim was not acting per se, but that there was a video showing the victim avoiding Ummi.

Judge Reddy stood the case down to the afternoon.

Voluntarily causing grievous hurt carries a punishment of up to 10 years’ jail, and offenders are also liable to be fined or caned. If the crimes involve a domestic helper, offenders may receive twice the maximum punishment.

Ummi cannot be caned as she is a woman.

COURT & CRIMEcrimeMAID/DOMESTIC WORKER