South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has renewed its appeal to foreign diplomatic missions in Riyadh to save the life of Rizana Nafeek, a Lankan maid who is facing the death sentence after a baby in her care died.

In July 2007, a three-member court in Dawadmi unanimously found Nafeek, a housemaid who was working for a Saudi household, guilty of the murder of a four-month-old infant who she was asked to bottle-feed by the sponsors wife.

The incident took place in May 2005 when the baby was only three weeks old. Subsequently, the appeals court in the Kingdom upheld the judgment in September last year. Since 2005, the maid has been in a jail in Dawadmi, some 320 km from the Saudi capital.

In October 2010, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appealed to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah requesting clemency for Nafeek.

“In December last year, representatives from the European missions in Riyadh made submissions to the Saudi Foreign Ministry to work out a pardon for the girl who had got into problems when she came to earn money for a better living back home,” said AHRC Executive Director Basil Fernando from Hong Kong.

“I also understand some of the diplomats from the EU missions based in Riyadh had met the lawyer to get first-hand information about the case, which showed a lot of people are worried about the maids fate. Time is running out, we are afraid the execution could be carried out unless the pardon is given by the parents of the infant,” Fernando said.

“We are trying all avenues to save the life of Nafeek,” he said. “I am sure the parents will show mercy to this girl who was only 17 when the incident took place.”

It is illegal for a foreign resident under the age of 18 to work in the Kingdom. It is believed that a facilitator in Sri Lanka forged Nafeeks age to send her to the Kingdom as a housemaid who was then given nanny duties by her employers. Nafeeks passport stated her date of birth as Feb. 2, 1982. The certified copy of her birth certificate indicates her actual date of birth as Feb. 4, 1988.
Respecting the Supreme Courts final verdict, Fernando said he had also sought the United Nations intervention with the Saudi government to resolve the case. He hoped UN officials would take up this matter with the Saudi governments Human Rights Commission to persuade the parents to pardon the maid on humanitarian grounds.

Subsequent to the murder verdict issued in 2007, the AHRC funded the appeal against the judgment. “The whole of Sri Lanka is deeply concerned about the fate of this housemaid. Her case has generated a lot of sympathy from Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities in the country,” said L.K. Ruhunuge, additional general manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) in from Colombo. He added that his officials are in touch with Nafeeks parents in her hometown of Muttur to console them.

Ruhunuge said that SLBFE has used all diplomatic channels to save the maid. However, he added that the government thought it would be more appropriate at this juncture to make a final appeal to the aggrieved parents.

Nafeek claims the infant she was given to take care of choked to death while being bottle-fed during her second week on the job. The parents alleged she murdered the child and a local court found her guilty. The Supreme Court later upheld this verdict.

Source: The Daily Mirror – 11.02.2011