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Joanna Demafelis: Employers of Filipina maid found dead in freezer arrested

The employers of a Filipina maid found dead in a freezer in Kuwait have been arrested in the Syrian capital Damascus after a manhunt lasting several weeks.

Ms Demafelis’s sister cried over her casket upon its arrival in Manila last week

Joanna Demafelis, 29, was found frozen in her employers’ apartment more than a year after she was reported missing.

Both Nader Essam Assaf and his Syrian wife Mona are being held on suspicion of murder, officials said on Saturday.

Mr Assaf, who is a Lebanese national, was transferred to Beirut but his wife remains in custody in Damascus.

On Saturday, a Lebanese judicial official said the couple had left Kuwait and made a “very brief stopover” in Lebanon before travelling on the neighbouring Syria.

“Lebanon has asked Kuwait to pass on [Mr Assaf’s] police record,” the official added.

Ms Demafelis’s death prompted outrage in the Philippines and a ban on Filipinos travelling to work in Kuwait.

Both suspects became the subject of an international manhunt aided by Interpol.

Philippines foreign secretary Alan Peter Cayetano welcomed the news of the arrests, calling it a “critical first step in our quest for justice for Joanna”.

The maid’s body was found this month with apparent signs of torture, Philippine officials said, in an apartment that had apparently been abandoned for at least a year.

In the aftermath of the discovery, Philippine authorities say they facilitated the return of more than 1,000 “distressed overseas Filipino workers” in Kuwait, most of whom had worked as household servants.

The country’s department of foreign affairs estimate that some 252,000 of its citizens are living and working there.

Kuwaiti authorities, meanwhile, have vowed to do everything possible to see justice is done.

Mr Cayetano said he expected Kuwaiti authorities to request the extradition of Mr Assaf from Lebanon, to stand trial in Kuwait. BBC News