Saudi Arabia behads about 80 people a year

Saudi Arabia beheads about 80 people a year

A Sri Lankan woman who was employed as a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia was beheaded by the Saudi authorities on Wednesday after she was accused of murdering an infant in her charge and then sentenced to death in a case that the Sri Lankan government and human rights groups said was deeply flawed.

The Saudi Interior Ministry announced in a brief statement released by the official Saudi news agency that the woman, Rizana Nafeek, had been executed. It said she strangled the infant because of differences between her and the baby’s mother. She was detained and interrogated and was sentenced after trial, the Saudi ministry reported. She had been on the job for only six weeks before the accusation was made against her in 2005.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended.

Waiting patiently, but all hope is now ended. Rizana’s parents.

Her mother, Rafeena, told the BBC at the family’s tiny village home, where they keep one cow, that Rizana Nafeek went to Saudi Arabia to earn money to educate her three younger siblings.

In 2005, war was returning to this part of Sri Lanka between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels. Rizana’s father, Sulthan, could no longer go to the jungle to collect wood, which had been his job.

n Saudi Arabia, their daughter got domestic employment but was also given childcare duties, something her parents say she was not expecting.

Weeks after her arrival, tragedy struck. The baby in her care, Naif al-Quthaibi, died. A Saudi court convicted her of murder and sentenced her to death. She says that Naif choked during a feeding session and she was unable to save him.

The evidence that the accused was a minor when the alleged crime was committed is compelling.

The BBC visited her old school, the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya, and saw a register which says she was born in 1988. That matches her birth certificate.

Rizana Nafeek's name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Rizana Nafeek’s name can clearly be seen on the Imam Shafi Vidyalaya school register.

Her passport says she was born in 1982, but her family and neighbours say this was falsified by an unscrupulous Sri Lankan job agent.

If the 1988 date is correct, she was definitely only 17 and therefore a juvenile when the alleged crime took place.

Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had made several appeals to the Saudi government to halt the execution. Sri Lanka also sent ministers to the kingdom on similar appeals and arranged for the woman’s parents to visit their daughter in prison in 2008 and 2011, the Sri Lanka statement said.

“President Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid,” it said.

Ms. Nafeek’s case was shrouded in controversy all along. Human Rights Watch, which along with other rights organizations had urged the Saudi government to halt the execution, said that she should have been treated as a minor in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system, and it also questioned whether she had been given a fair trial:

Though she was arrested in 2005, she did not have access to legal counsel until after a court in Dawadmi sentenced her to death in 2007. Nafeek has also retracted a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle.

Human Rights Watch said that Ms. Nafeek’s birth certificate showed that she was 17 at the time of her arrest, but that a recruitment agency in Sri Lanka had altered the birth date on her passport to present her as 23 so she could migrate for work. Her birth certificate says she was born in 1988, said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview, adding that she has a scanned image of the document.

The High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for falsifying her travel documents, she said.

In a statement that was released this week and updated on Wednesday when the sentence was carried out, Human Rights Watch said that international law prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed before the age of 18.

“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” Ms. Varia said. The others are Iran and Yemen, she said.

Amnesty International said in a statement that as a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on people under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged offense, and that if there was doubt, the courts were required to treat the suspect as a juvenile until the prosecution can confirm the age.

After the sentence was handed down in 2007, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch had called on the Saudi authorities for clemency, but the sentence was appealed and then later ratified by the country’s Supreme Court. King Abdullah signed off on it this week, Amnesty International said.

According to information gathered by Amnesty International, Ms. Nafeek said she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to the Court of First Instance in 2007. Amnesty International said it also appeared that the man who translated her statement to the court might not have been able adequately to go between Tamil and Arabic.

She also had no access to lawyers either during her pretrial interrogation or at her trial in 2007. Amnesty International said that although she initially confessed to the baby’s murder during her interrogation, “she later retracted and denied it was true, saying she had been forced to make the ‘confession’ under duress following a physical assault.”

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in  the case.

Sri Lankan protests were on-going, but ultimately fruitless. The Saudi government and King appear to have simply disregarded them despite the serious doubts in the case.

Ms. Varia said she had spoken on Wednesday to the Sri Lankan ambassador in Riyadh, who told her that Ms. Nafeek was unaware she was to be executed. Ms. Nafeek, a Muslim, is from an impoverished family. Her father is a woodcutter. “In cases where girls are migrating so young it shows how desperate families are for income,” she said.

The news of the execution came on the same day that the United Nations’ International Labor Organization issued a report saying that of the 52 million domestic workers worldwide, only 10 percent are covered by labor laws to the same extent as other workers, and more than one-quarter are completely excluded from national labor legislation. It called on countries to extend protections to such workers.

Saudi Arabia in particular was not keeping up with the international trend to improve protections for domestic workers, Ms. Varia said.

Wellthisiswhatithink has had cause to draw attention to the inadequacies and brutalities of the Saudi legal system before including the case of a woman executed for “witchcraft”. Other commentators have also noticed what’s going on, including threatening the death sentence to bloggers. And this story will again fuel the racist and ignorant perception that this is a country unworthy of acceptance into the modern world, but also – more accurately – one where justice is medieval, capricious, and biased against women and the poor.

The West will soon free itself of reliance on the oil under Saudi Arabia which has made its occupants so accidentally, ludicrously and obscenely rich. When that day comes, and they find world opinion firmly against them, they may regret the death of young girls like Rizana, made to kneel in the sand in terror while their head is brutally struck from their shoulders.

May she rest in peace.

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Comments
  1. wsb says:

    I don’t see that the age of the accused has much bearing on the matter: 17 or 27, child murder is still murder. More to the point is the question of her guilt and nothing written above suggests that the verdict was wrong.

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    • On the contrary – world legal standards prohibit the execution of someone who was a child at the time the alleged offence was committed. Second, she was denied legal representation and retracted her confession which she claims was made under duress. Try and imagine being a child held in a Saudi prison where you do not speak the language and where you are subject to pressure … It is well understood that in those circumstances people say anything to make the experience stop. I am opposed to the death penalty in any circumstances. But to see it imposed in a situation where the trial was clearly a farce is a disgrace and brings shame on the Saudi government, which is hardly what one would consider is pro-women under any circumstances, let alone when that woman is a migrant worker.

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  2. AsGrayAsGray says:

    Unlike ‘wsb’, I actually read this post.
    To me it seems that the Saudi authorities ‘need’ to routinely grotesquely punish or execute someone in an attempt to ‘maintain order’, or whatever. It also seems that the victims of this punishment are chosen or engineered to fit a certain profile for political/social/religious ends. Sickening.
    “King Abdullah signed off on it this week…” – there’s half the problem – this regal moron doesn’t seem to have any moral compass at all, is imbecilic, or does others’ bidding. Who runs Saudi Arabia? When this place finally has a revolution (a ‘spring’?, maybe if the Americans are involved…), there may be well be rivers of Abdullah blood flowing through the streets….

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    • I agree that the rationale for continuing with this execution is absolutely unfathomable. By any measure one seeks to apply the execution would seem to be the final injustice in a long line of failures by the Saudi legal system. I am sure there will be change in the Kingdom – when is another matter. Perhaps when the petro dollars start drying up and they have to survive in the world without such a strong position.

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