Condemned to death by prejudice and politics, a Filipino maid awaits her fate Condemned by prejudice and politics a Filipino faces death in UAE jail

Decision fuels belief that Sharia law is merciless and medieval; Filipino women speak constantly of beatings and sexual abuse

EVEN THE Arab prison warders like Sarah Balabagan. The Philippine embassy staff who are trying to save the 16-year old housemaid from execution before an Emirates firing squad have drawn hope from the affection that both prison officers and fellow prisoners show for the condemned girl in the Al-Ain jail. "They are very kind to her and I think she is prepared for the appeal hearing," one of the diplomats said. "Sometimes she has cried but she smiled when she last saw us. The warders all tell her not to worry, that she will not be put to death."

Sarah Balabagan may have been convicted of murder, but she appears to be a very brave girl. She will have to be when she faces her appeals court tomorrow morning.

Condemned to death for killing Almas al-Baloushi, her elderly Emirates employer - she says she stabbed him 34 times as he tried to rape her two years ago - it has been Sarah's fate to have become trapped by some of the rawest cultural prejudices and political sensitivities in both her own country and Abu Dhabi, the richest and most powerful of the six United Arab Emirates.

In a Gulf nation where Filipinos are regularly denigrated as thieves and potential murderers - Sharouq, a local news magazine, last week described Filipino maids as a "minefield" among Arab families, and Balabagan herself as a justly convicted "killer" - her sentence has enraged an 80,000-strong Filipino community whose women are constantly complaining of beatings and sexual abuse by their Arab employers. Politically, too, Sarah's sentence of death is dynamite.

President Ramos of the Philippines, still suffering the fallout from his government's failure to save the life of Flor Contemplacion - the maid hanged for allegedly murdering a child in Singapore and whose execution forced the resignation of the Philippine foreign minister - has quietly appealed to the Emirates government for a pardon. But President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan is anxious to demonstrate that his emirate of Abu Dhabi will not tolerate serious crime at a time of growing insecurity in the Gulf area - and that his courts, which follow Islamic Sharia law, will deal firmly with the murder of its citizens.

Indeed, it was Sheikh Zayed who ordered Sarah Balabagan to be retried after the Al-Ain court had originally sentenced her to seven years for manslaughter, awarding her compensation for rape by her employer. Frail but clearly very pretty beneath her black-and-gold headscarf, it is already clear that the Filipino maid was only 14 when she stabbed Almas al-Baloushi. Again, however, she has found herself trapped, this time by the very identity papers which she used to travel to the Emirates two years ago.

Her own Philippine employment agency, it seems, falsified her documents to give her date of birth as 1966 - because Emirates law says that female employees must be at least 25 years old. Despite the fact that her physical appearance proves she cannot possibly be 29, the Moroccan judge who heads the Sharia court at Al-Ain, Sheikh Ahmed al-Titwani, chose to accept the false age given in her identity papers.

Sarah Balabagan committed her murder when she was an adult, the judge announced, because "we have evidence that Sarah is more than 21 years old and is not 16 as she claimed". The death sentence, he said, must therefore be carried out.

His decision has only helped to fuel the belief among Filipinos and many other foreign residents that adherents of Sharia law are both merciless and medieval in outlook - which is not the impression which Sheikh Zayed wishes to give of his gleaming and super-rich emirate. The girl's original court hearing, however, provided evidence enough of mistreatment at al- Baloushi's hands. One witness described how she was given so little food by her employer that she was forced to beg meals from neighbours. Her lawyer stated that the employment agent's secretary - who has since left the country - had described how the girl complained to her a week before the murder of al-Baloushi's sexual harassment.

Although Balabagan remained a virgin, the court agreed that the elderly man - her lawyer claimed he was 55, his family said he was in his eighties - had tried to rape her. "I'm innocent and I want to be freed because I was only defending my honour," the girl told the second court. "This man was taking it away from me." Talking to local reporters before the hearing, she said that her agent had supported al-Baloushi in his attempted seduction. "He told me that if the old man asked me for a kiss, I should give him one. When I refused to do that, [the agent] locked me up in a goat pen."

After the initial hearing, she was ordered to pay pounds 27,000 "blood money" to the al-Baloushi family - and to receive pounds 18,000 in compensation from the family for the attempted rape. This, along with her seven-year sentence, was what prompted Sheikh Zayed to order a retrial. Outraged by the furore which the death sentence inevitably created, the Abu Dhabi justice ministry responded with a statement which only served to infuriate Sarah Balabagan's supporters, defending Sheikh Zayed's decision to protect the "stability, tranquillity and decent life" of his citizens "with a strong hand against anyone who harms security. . . The defendant is 27 (sic) years old as is verified in her passport and other official documents. She is not a teenager as the media in her country has claimed."

Even if her death sentence is confirmed by the appeals court, the emirate's "strong hand" can still be restrained by the supreme court. But if this august institution upholds Judge Titwani's sentence, the only figure who can prevent the 16-year old maid being dragged before a firing squad will be the man who was so dissatisfied with the original and milder sentence: Sheikh Zayed himself.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen