Were Hong Kong's Maids The Real Targets of This Racist Soccer Incident?

Last June, a soccer match between Hong Kong and the Philippines turned ugly when some Hong Kong fans, incensed at having lost the game, threw water bottles at Filipino spectators and called them "slaves." At the time, witnesses said that the targets of the abuse were primarily women and children. The Hong Kong Football Association downplayed the incident, saying that their fans were provoked into an altercation. On Friday, FIFA ruled otherwise, fining the association about $33,000 for not keeping their fans in check.

Regardless of whether the Hong Kong fans were provoked, the incident has fairly sinister undertones, given that Filipinos comprise a significant marginalized underclass in Hong Kong. About 300,000 Filipino and Indonesian women work as maids in the city, commonly regarded as indispensable to Hong Kong households. Yet these domestic workers lack many basic labor rights and are subject to laws that make them vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment.

Maids must live with their employers, for instance, which breeds all manner of ills. (In 2012, a famous Cantonese singer shamelessly bragged about the fact that her maid slept in a trundle bed above her toilet.) They are only entitled to one day off per week. Their minimum wage is about $500 per month in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And unlike other foreign workers, they can't apply for permanent residency. Because their immigration status is directly tied to their employment status, they have little recourse if they are mistreated by an employer. Maids who do report abusive employers aren't allowed to work again until their case is resolved, and as a result, many are forced to return home.  

Incidents of abuse are plenty. Most recently, in September, a couple was arrested for torturing their Indonesian maid until she couldn't work anymore. It's one in a long line of cases. On Thursday, Hong Kong domestic workers took to the streets to protest such cases of abuse, and argue for greater labor protections. But it's an uphill battle -- and one not aided by Hong Kong's soccer fans decrying Filipinos as something less than human.

Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images


Whoops: Tragic Photo of Orphaned 'Syrian' Boy is Fake

Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Jarba tweeted a disturbing photo Friday morning that purportedly depicts an orphaned Syrian boy sleeping between the graves of parents. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, he made sure to finger Assad as the culprit behind the pictured boy's sad fate, tweeting:

The photo has been making the rounds on Twitter, where it has stirred up fresh outrage about the human toll of the conflict in Syria.

Too bad it's totally fake.

Far from being a chronicle of war, the photo was actually part of an art project by Saudi Arabian photographer, Abdul Aziz Al-Otaibi. Journalist Harald Doornbos was perhaps the first to point out the gaffe. He reached out to a "pretty annoyed"  Otaibi, who said, "Look, it's not true at all that my picture has anything to do with Syria... I am really shocked how people have twisted my picture."

Otaibi noted that the graves are not actually graves, and the boy is his nephew -- and a very good sport:

Jarba deleted the photo about 30 minutes after posting it but, as we all must learn the hard way, nothing on the internet is ever really dead.

Was the unvetted photo an ill-advised attempt to turn public opinion against Assad ahead of Wednesday's Geneva talks? It's no secret that some members of the opposition coalition believe Assad's willingness to relinquish his chemical weapons cache has undeservedly helped him rebuild credibility in the eyes of the international community. Reminding the world of his victims might have taken him down a notch or two. Unfortunately, the whole fiasco sends a rather different message: The opposition is getting a little desperate and its P.R. apparatus needs some work.