Rizana Nafeek, who went to Saudi Arabia as a maid when she was 17 years old and who was sentenced to death by a Saudi court on the allegation that she had killed an infant of her employer in 2005, was beheaded in January 2013. Rizana Nafeek had previously said that she had been pressured into confessing to the murder, and NGOs say she also had no access to lawyers before her conviction. Advocates also argue that there were serious deficiencies in translation between Tamil and Arabic at the time Nafeek confessed to the crime.
Saudi Arabia is just one of three countries known to have executed people in the past five years for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18, said Human Rights Watch.
News of Nafeek’s execution came on the same day that the ILO said that laws were needed “urgently” to give greater protection to domestic workers, of whom only about 10 per cent globally – 5.3 million people – are covered by labour laws to the same degree as other workers .
Rizana Nafeek constantly denied the charges and explained that the death occurred as an accident by suffocation while she was bottle feeding the child. As a result of intervention by human rights organisations an appeal was filed on her behalf and the death sentence was set aside.
A supreme body in Saudi referred the case back to the original court for reinvestigation. The court called for the person who took down her alleged confession. It was found that he was not a competent interpreter that carried out the translation and that it was someone who was, in fact, a sheep herder. The court issued summons for the person to be brought to the court for examination. It was then found that the person concerned was no longer in the country. Thereafter, the case was postponed for several years as the witness could not be located.
The Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia has made statements from time to time stated that the embassy was closely following the case and was providing support to the young girl who was in prison. However, later it was almost impossible to get anyone to answer questions about the case from the Sri Lankan Embassy.
However, on the same day the Arab News announced that the court in Dawi Dami has confirmed the death sentence. The report by Arab News did not give any further details.
The death sentence has been confirmed in the case of Rizana Nafeek.
Rizana Nafeek was born on February 4, 1988 and comes from a war-torn, impoverished village. Here, many families, including those of the Muslim community try to send their under aged children for employment outside the country, as their breadwinners. Some employment agencies exploit the situation of the impoverished families to recruit under aged girls for employment. For that purpose they engage in obtaining passports by altering the dates of birth of these children to make it appear that they are older than they really are. In the case of Rizana Nafeek, the altered date, which is to be found in her passport now, is February 2, 1982. It was on the basis of this altered date that the employment agency fixed her employment in Saudi Arabia and she went there in May 2005.
She went to work at the house of Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al Otaibi whose wife had a new-born baby boy. A short time after she started working for this family she was assigned to bottle feed the infant who was by then four months old. Rizana Nafeek had no experience of any sort in caring for such a young infant. She was left alone when bottle feeding the child. While she was feeding the child the boy started choking, as so often happens to babies and Rizana Nafeek panicked and while shouting for help tried to sooth the child by feeling the chest, neck and face, doing whatever she could to help him. At her shouting the mother arrived but by that time the baby was either unconscious or dead. Unfortunately, misunderstanding the situation the family members treated the teenager very harshly and handed her over to the police, accusing her of strangling the baby. At the police station also, she was very harshly handled and did not have the help of a translator or anyone else to whom she could explain what had happened. She was made to sign a confession and later charges were filed in court of murder by strangulation.
On her first appearance in court she was sternly warned by the police to repeat her confession, which she did. However, later she was able to talk to an interpreter who was sent by the Sri Lankan embassy and she explained in her own language the circumstances of what had happened as stated above. This version was also stated in court thereafter.
According to reports, the judges who heard the case requested the father of the child to use his prerogative to pardon the young girl. However, the father refused to grant such pardon. On that basis the court sentenced her to death by beheading. This sentence was made on June 16, 2007.
The said murder allegedly took place in February 2005 when Rizana Nafeek was only 17 years old. Sources said she had modified her age on her passport so that she could enter Saudi Arabia to work. Accordingly, she was still considered a minor.
Foreign workers are nowadays being warned of the ‘deadly risks’ they face in Saudi Arabia, with more than 45 maids awaiting execution despite growing anger at the country’s mistreatment of migrants.
The death row prisoners include a domestic worker convicted of beating her employer to death when he allegedly tried to rape her.
Human rights groups believe Indonesians account for the majority of the maids on death row and that there are Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Indians and Ethiopians also facing execution.
Campaigners say many of Saudi Arabia’s 1.5 million migrant workers, around 375,000 of whom are Sri Lankan, are attracted to the country by the prospect of working for wealthy families but face exploitation and abuse. This can range from months of hard work without pay to physical violence, in a country where legal protections are particularly weak, and access to lawyers, translators and embassies is often blocked.
The Saudi justice system is characterised by arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and harsh punishments. A domestic worker facing abuse or exploitation from her employer might run away and then be accused of theft. Employers may accuse domestic workers, especially those from Indonesia, of witchcraft. Victims of rape and sexual assault are at risk of being accused of adultery and fornication.’
Human rights group say 69 people were executed in Saudi Arabia last year and 79 the year before, including five women, one of whom was beheaded for witchcraft and sorcery.
Saudi Arabia is notorious for its treatment of domestic staff, the majority of who migrate from poverty-stricken countries.
Commentators have remarked that Saudis treat staff as if they were part of the furniture – with stories of beatings, rape and imprisonment all too common.
In 2010, shocking photographs emerged of maid Sumiati Binti Salan Mustapa, 23, who suffered severe injuries from being stabbed, burned and beaten. Her employer was sentenced to just three years in jail but was later acquitted altogether, in a case that outraged human rights groups.
Speaking at the time, Indonesian advocacy group, Migrant Care, said: ‘Again and again we hear about slavery-like conditions, torture, sexual abuse and even death. ‘But our government has chosen to ignore it. Why? Because migrant workers generate £4.7billion in foreign exchange every
Amnesty International said there is growing alarm at the number of migrant workers being sentenced to death, with more than 120 foreign nationals known to be on death row. It said migrant workers in Saudi Arabia are at great risk if they end up in the criminal justice system and added countries should be advising their residents of the ‘very real and deadly’ risks. In many cases they’re subjected to whole trials where they can’t understand the proceedings, which are conducted solely in Arabic, and without translation. They are often not given access to consular assistance.
Death row prisoner Tuti Tursilawati binti Warjuki, 27, from Indonesia, faces execution for murdering her employer in 2010 when he allegedly attempted to rape her. Her supporters say she was abused by the man since arriving in the country a year earlier and was denied legal representation for the first two months of her trial.
Siti Zainab, also from Indonesia, has also been sentenced to death after being convicted in 1999 of stabbing her female employer to death. She confessed to the murder but the authorities appear to have dismissed concerns over her mental health.
Prisoner Satinah binti Jumadi Ahmad, 40, was arrested in 2007 for killing her female employer. The Indonesian government is prepared to pay some of the £1.6m blood money demanded by the woman’s family to save her.
Reports of what happened vary from her fighting back after being attacked to the maid having snapped after suffering months of abuse before being accused of stealing.
The Sri Lankan government has spoken out against the execution of house maid Rizana Nafeek, from, Sri Lanka, after she was beheaded in public by a sword last week. Miss Nafeek was sentenced to death in 2007 after her Saudi employer accused her of strangling his four-month-old baby two years earlier after a dispute with the child’s mother. Her family and human rights groups repeatedly appealed to King Abdullah to pardon Miss Nafeek, who protested her innocence and said the baby had choked to death while being bottle fed.
Supporters said the age on the passport she used to enter the country in 2005 was changed so she could get work and that according to her birth certificate she was just 17 when the baby died.
Miss Nafeek said her original confession was made under duress and there translation services were not made available to her. Amnesty said she had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or at her 2007 trial.
Amnesty said before the execution: ‘It appears that she was herself a child at the time and there are real concerns about the fairness of her trial.’
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