Jail term reduced to fine for woman who abused maid

Soh Meiyun, 34, had her 16-month jail term cut to a $15,000 fine on appeal.

A housewife who abused her maid with a bamboo pole, a hot spoon and a sewing needle had her 16-month jail term cut to a $15,000 fine on appeal yesterday.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin accepted that 34-year-old Soh Meiyun was suffering from both major depressive disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder at the time, which affected her actions.

Soh was diagnosed with the psychiatric disorders only in June last year - six months after she was sentenced in December 2012 for abusing Indonesian Lilis Sriyatun, 26.

Her lawyer Quek Mong Hua succeeded in admitting the report from Institute of Mental Health psychiatrist Yao Feng- yuan as fresh evidence during her first appeal hearing in January.

The report said that a year after her son was born in April 2008, Soh had symptoms including poor sleep, poor concentration and low energy levels, and quarrelled with her husband almost every day.

She followed a ritualistic way of cleaning and packing things, including taking up to two hours to wash two milk bottles.

Dr Yao, who said her symptoms "are very unlikely to be feigned", took the stand in a second appeal hearing earlier this month.

Justice Chao said in his written judgment yesterday that he was initially sceptical about Dr Yao's diagnosis; this was exacerbated by the way in which Soh's account of her offences to Dr Yao differed from the findings of the district judge who convicted her.

"But having heard him testify, I am satisfied that his diagnosis in the medical report is reliable," said Justice Chao.

Soh had abused the maid in April and May 2009. She first hit her employee with a bamboo pole on the head, back and thighs.

The second time, she heated a metal spoon over a stove and pressed it on the maid's arm.

In the final incident, Soh forced the woman to strip and used a sewing needle to poke and scratch her body. The maid escaped later that day.

Soh was convicted in November 2012 and sentenced a month later by District Judge Mathew Joseph who condemned the way she abused the maid. He said her actions were "perverse, exploitative and an outrageous affront to human dignity and the conscience of any modern society in the world today".

But yesterday, Justice Chao said he was confident that the district judge would have had second thoughts on the 16-month jail term he handed down to Soh, had Dr Yao's evidence been placed before him.

Soh was out on bail pending her appeal against her sentence. Her husband, IT technician Tang Leng Khuen, was separately jailed four weeks for kicking the maid and hitting her back with a clothes hanger.

The maid left Singapore after the couple paid her $3,000 in compensation. Mr Quek said Soh is "very grateful for the mercy shown by the court".

This article was published on April 30 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.