Lebanon News

Hearing in Ethiopian domestic worker suicide case postponed

Mahfouz speaks to a local television station in this YouTube screen grab.

BEIRUT: The first hearing for the man accused of contributing to last year’s suicide of Ethiopian domestic worker Alem Dechasa Desisa was postponed Monday until next month because of problems with paperwork.

Judge Wael Sadeq said proceedings would resume March 18, after Ali Mahfouz’ name was found to be listed incorrectly in the court’s records. Sadeq also said he had not received paperwork establishing Dechasa Desisa’s parents are her sole heirs, a status that would enable them to transfer their power of attorney to the Caritas Migrants Center.

A lawyer from the center, Joyce Geha, was present at the hearing.

Mahfouz, whose name will now be changed in the records from Ali Mahfouz Haidar to Ali Haidar Mahfouz, also requested time to find a lawyer.

Last March, a viral video showed two men forcing Dechasa Desisa into a car as she screamed and resisted outside the Ethiopian Consulate. One of the men was later identified as Ali Mahfouz, whose brother worked at her employment agency.

The incident took place in late February, and Dechasa Desisa was taken to the hospital. She took her own life while in a psychiatric institution in mid-March. Her public beating and death sparked an outcry about the treatment of migrant domestic workers in Lebanon.

At the time of Dechasa Desisa’s death, Mahfouz contended that she was mentally unstable and had previously attempted to take her own life. After the session, he brandished papers that he said showed the 33-year-old suffered from depression and that he had paid her funeral costs. They could not be independently verified.

Ethiopia’s consul general in Lebanon, Asaminew Debelie Bonssa, assured the court he would submit documents to establish power of attorney within the next two weeks, although he told The Daily Star that he had believed the paperwork was already in order.

Speaking to The Daily Star after the hearing, Mahfouz criticized the Ethiopian Consulate, calling their representatives “liars” who did not care about Dechasa Desisa when she was alive. “What embassy is this? They are liars. ... He [Bonssa], who is here to complain now, refused to come downstairs to help her when I brought her to him.”

Shortly before the incident that was caught on tape, Mahfouz brought Dechasa Desisa inside the consulate, and Bonssa told Mahfouz she needed to be hospitalized.

Bonssa later expressed regret that he had trusted Mahfouz.

Bonssa declined to comment on the case except to discuss the documentation, saying it was “now with the courts.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 12, 2013, on page 4.




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