South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Amnesty International today urged the Saudi Arabian King to halt the execution of a young Sri Lankan woman who has lost her appeal against a death sentence for a murder committed when she says she was 17 years old.

Rizana Nafeek, who was arrested in May 2005 on charges of killing an infant in her care, had her death sentence upheld on Monday by Riyadh’s Supreme Court.

The case now awaits final ratification by King Abdullah. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has already appealed to the King to exercise clemency.

It would be outrageous if Rizana Nafeek were to be executed for this crime, said Malcolm Smart, Director of Middle East and North Africa programme at Amnesty International. It appears that she was herself a child at the time and there are real concerns about the fairness of her trial.

Saudi Arabia has had one of the highest rates of executions in the world, with migrants from poor and developing countries among the main victims.

Rizana Nafeek entered Saudi Arabia in May 2005 to work as a housemaid using a passport that gives her date of birth as February 1982, although she says she was actually born six years later, in February 1988, as her birth certificate indicates.

If she was born in February 1988, she was only 17 at the time of the crime for which she has been sentenced to death.

Rizana Nafeek had no access to lawyers during her pre-trial interrogation, when she says she was assaulted, or at her first trial. She initially confessed to the murder but has since retracted her confession, which she says she was forced to make under duress after being physically assaulted in detention.

The domestic worker’s case was transferred back and forth between various courts after she was sentenced to death on 16 June 2007 by a court in Dawadmi until the Supreme Court confirmed her death sentence earlier this week. It has now been referred to King Abdullah and if he ratifies it she will be at imminent risk of execution.

The court which sentenced her reportedly relied on the age given in her passport and did not allow her birth certificate or other evidence of her age to be considered.

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Saudi Arabia is bound not to execute people convicted of crimes committed when they were under 18 years old.

At least 158 people, including 76 foreign nationals, were executed by the Saudi Arabian authorities in 2007, and at least 102 people, including almost 40 foreign nationals, were executed in 2008.

In 2009, at least 69 people are known to have been executed, including 19 foreign nationals. Since the beginning of 2010, at least 21 people have been executed, including five foreign nationals.

Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of offences in court proceedings that fall far short of international standards for fair trial.

Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by a lawyer and in many cases they are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them.

Source: Daily Mirror – 28.10.2010