“The imminent execution of a teenage maid in Saudi Arabia drew fierce criticism yesterday and provoked condemnation of the kingdom’s prolific use of capital punishment.
The case has brought fresh attention to the draconian Saudi criminal justice system which is expected this year to set a new record in its use of the death sentence.
Mohammad Rezina, mother of Rizana Nafeek, with two of her daughters at home in Sri Lanka
Human rights campaigners yesterday urged the authorities not to behead a 19-year-old Sri Lankan maid found guilty of killing a baby in her care.
According to the Saudi authorities, Rizana Nafeek admitted strangling the four-month-old boy while feeding him with a bottle.
But Nafeek, whose job was not meant to include child care, has denied making any such admission. She claims the child had begun to choke before losing consciousness in spite of her desperate efforts to clear his airway.
Tonight is the deadline for appeals in the case. Unless the Saudi authorities change the sentence or the parents of the victim offer clemency, Nafeek will have her head cut off by an executioner wielding a sword in front of a crowd of onlookers.
In 2005 there were 191 executions but that record could be surpassed this year as 102 have already taken place just over half way through the year. Last year the total dipped to 38 but this year’s figure already includes three women, according to Amnesty International.
Nafeek, who had been denied a lawyer at her trial, is one of 5.6 million foreign workers who live in Saudi Arabia. The vast majority are domestic workers such as Nafeek, employed to look after the homes of oil-rich families.
According to the Sri Lankan government, Nafeek had only been in the country a few weeks when the incident happened in May 2005. A government delegation tried to fly to Saudi Arabia to organise her appeal but it was delayed because of visa problems.
Beheading has always been the punishment for murderers, rapists, drug traffickers and armed robbers in Saudi Arabia, which follows a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
In February, four Sri Lankan workers were executed for armed robbery and their headless bodies left on public display in Riyadh, triggering harsh criticism from international rights groups.
Amnesty International says some defendants are convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress, torture or deception.
Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, said: “It is an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn’t even have a lawyer at her trial. The Saudi authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime.”
There are so many foreign workers in Saudi Arabia that they account for a large proportion of crimes committed.
“The workers commit big crimes against Saudis,” said Suhaila Hammad of Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights.
She said the number of executions had risen because crime had increased. She said that prisoners were treated humanely and that beheadings deterred crime.
“Allah, our creator, knows best what’s good for his people,” she said.
“Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?”
(Via Daily Telegraph.)