Rizana Nafeek, a 17 year-old girl from a village affected both by civil conflict and the tsunami disaster of December, 2004, went to Saudi Arabia as a domestic worker to support her family, who live in dire poverty. 18 days after her arrival, this inexperienced teenager was entrusted with bottle-feeding an infant, who began choking.
Rizana called for help, but the baby died. She has since been in prison, and now faces death by beheading. The family refuses to 'forgive' her - which would commute her death sentence. Suggested action below this press release...
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 12, 2007
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
WORLD: A teenager facing beheading in Saudi Arabia will be a test for Shariah lawSee related article
The plight of a teen aged girl facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia, due to an incident that according to her happened while she was trying bottle feed an infant child of four months has received the sympathetic attention of the global media during the last week.
Rizana Nafeek, a 17 year-old girl from a village affected both by civil conflict and the tsunami disaster of December, 2004, went to Saudi Arabia for employment as a domestic worker to support her family, who live in dire poverty. Within 18 days of her arrival she met with the tragic incident in which the infant choked as she was
trying to bottle feed him and from that time she has been in Dawadami prison.
On June 16, she was sentenced to death by beheading by a Saudi court after a trial in which she had no legal representation. Her work assignments had been cleaning and other general domestic work but did not include nursing and infant care. However, she was given the task of bottle feeding the child all alone and when she tried to do this, the unfortunate incident took place and she did not have the experience to deal with it.
By the time the family members arrived due to her cries for help, the child was either unconscious or dead. The family blamed the tragedy on the teenager and handed her over to the police who, according to her, ill-treated her and forced her to confess that she had strangled the infant. She was made to repeat the confession at the first hearing of the trial by the police who threatened her. However, after
speaking to an interpreter from the Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh, she made a second statement to the court, narrating her version of what had really happened. The court sentenced her to death on the strength of her first confession. She was given 30 days to file an appeal but she had no one to help her do this.
The Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia reported the case to the Sri Lankan government and requested funds for the filing of the appeal. The Sri Lankan government failed to respond and probably the matter would have gone unattended if not for the media, particularly the BBC Sinhala Service. Ever since floods of appeals have been made, including appeals from Amnesty International and the Asian Human Rights Commission.
On July 11, the AHRC, on behalf of several persons who have taken interest in the appeal, deposited monies with Messers Kateb Fahad Al- Shammari, Attorneys-at-Law for the filing of the appeal in court. The firm of lawyers is now pursuing the matter and the Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia is providing the necessary assistance for the filing of the appeal. The spontaneous reaction of the mass media and human rights organisations across the globe manifested an enormous interest. Now the death sentence on the accused, who was herself a child, at the time of the alleged crime, is raising serious legal, as well as moral issues, not only for Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka but for the whole world.
The story of this case brings to mind Victor Hugo's Les Misérables. Utter poverty brought the 17 year old to Saudi Arabia for employment. Within 18 days she was placed in a situation where the legal systems of both the country of domicile and the country of origin failed to help her in any way. Saudi Arabia provided her with no legal assistance during the trial. The Sri Lankan government does not provide legal assistance to Sri Lankans charged with crimes outside the country. Four Sri Lankans were recently executed in Saudi Arabia. They too were not provided with legal assistance during their trials, either by the Saudi authorities or the Sri Lankan authorities.
What is really being tested here is the merit of a trial without legal representation. However, this is not a new issue. The poor are, for most of the time, denied legal assistance. `Fair trial' is the privilege of those who can pay. The poverty that drives a young girl, who should have been in school, into employment, has now created the possibility of her being beheaded.
Saudi Arabia is a rich country. It does not lack material resources to provide legal aid to persons facing criminal trials, particularly those cases which face death sentences. Similarly, Sri Lanka is not so destitute as to be unable to afford legal costs in such a case. Around 400,000 migrant workers from Sri Lanka work in Saudi Arabia, and contribute to a considerable part of the foreign exchange of the country.
Despite this the government is unwilling to meet the legal fees of a trial. The pretext seems to be that, if costs are paid in one case it will set a precedent for others.
The purpose of legal systems is to ensure justice. Punishment without ensuring justice cannot be called humane.
The Asian Human Rights Commission issued an urgent appeal this week to the Muslim scholars throughout the world to reflect on, and intervene, in Rizana Nafeek's case. It is an occasion for these scholars to reflect, gravely, on all the issues of justice and humanity involved in this case. Rizana Nafeek's case will test the justice system in Saudi Arabia and Shariah law in general, for better or for worse.
Appeals to the family should be made through the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Sri Lankan Embassy will forward the letters to the family. A draft letter and email address for the Embassy is provided below. If anyone wishes change the language of the appeal, AHRC urges that understanding of the sufferings of this family should be shown and the family should be treated with the utmost respect.
(Writing of letters in Arabic is also encouraged)
Email to: email@example.com
Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al Otaibi
Ministry of Finance, Riyadh
C/O Sri Lankan Embassy
P.O. Box 94360
Request a Pardon for Rizana Naffeek
Dear Mr. Otaibi,
May the peace of God be upon you during this time of grief in your family. I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to you and your wife over the loss of your child.
The loss of any life is a tragedy, and it is in this spirit that I share with you my concerns for the life of the teenage girl Rizana Naffeek.
Rizana Naffeek comes from an extremely poor family in the war-torn eastern part of Sri Lanka where many people, including the Muslim community, are facing grave economic and other daily hardships. Due to this, many underage young people are sent to other countries for employment in order to feed their impoverished families.
Rizana Naffeek was born on February 4, 1988. The individuals who recruited her for employment in your country altered her date of birth to February 2, 1982, and obtained a passport for her to travel to Saudi Arabia. At the time of her employment in your household, she was therefore still a teenager without any experience of looking after a baby. My understanding is that her inexperience resulted in
the accidental death of your child and that this was not an intentional act to harm your family.
I am therefore writing this letter to appeal to your compassion to pardon and forgive the teenage girl Rizana Naffeek who is now facing a death sentence. It is to your compassion and understanding that I appeal in the hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive this unfortunate girl.
Urgent Appeals ProgrammeAsian Human Rights Commission
The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.