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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 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.
Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs said Wednesday in a statement on its Web site that Ms. Nafeek had been beheaded. She had been on the job for only six weeks before the accusation was made against her in 2005.
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 has been shrouded in controversy. 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.”
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.
Source: New York Times – 09/01/2012 (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/09/saudi-arabia-executes-sri-lankan-maid/)