Saudi Arabia / Sri Lanka: Clarification on Rizana's case

Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan maid, was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia in 2007. Her case is still pending.
The letter below was sent by the Asian Human Rights Commission last year, to the editor of the Daily News of Sri Lanka pointing out the inaccurate and misleading information published in two articles on the case of Rizana Nafeek/
July 12, 2007

The Editor
The Daily News
The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon
35 D.R. Wijewardena Mawatha,
Colombo 10
Sri Lanka

Dear Sir,

I refer to the two articles published in the Daily News: ‘Bhaila off on mercy mission to save Lankan girl’, (July 11), and ‘Parents of Rizana to leave for Saudi on Friday’ (July 12), which contain inaccurate and misleading information and statements which can be extremely damaging to the appeal that has been made on behalf of Rizana Nafeek.

The statement in your articles to the affect that under Saudi Arabian law only an appeal on compassionate grounds can be made is completely wrong.

An appeal from the death sentence of the original court may be made to a higher court on any grounds as is customary in any other legal system. In fact, the firm of Messers Kateb Fahad Al-Shammari, Attorneys at Law, is now in the process of filing a comprehensive appeal and the initial payment of Rs. 1.5 Million has been paid for the preparation of this appeal by the Asian Human Rights Commission.

The appeal, among other things, will take up the issue of the age of Rizana Nafeek, who was 17 years of age at the time of the alleged incident in May 2005. The evidence of Rizana to the effect that what happened was the accidental choking of the infant who was being bottle fed and that this was an accident and not a crime, will be further ground for an appeal. Besides this, Amnesty International has also brought to notice that the Saudi Arabian government is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The obligations of the government of Saudi Arabia, as a party to the CRC is that they will not execute anyone for a crime committed while they were under the age of 18 years. The relevant passage from Amnesty International’s report is quoted here:

“Saudi Arabia assured the Committee on the Rights of the Child (who monitor states' implementation of the CRC) in January 2006 that no children had been executed in the country since the CRC came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1997. This is a weaker commitment than is required by the CRC, which demands that no one is executed for crimes committed when they were under 18, no matter how old they are now.”

There are many extensive grounds on which the appeal can be made including the fact that she had no legal representation at the time of the trial. In commenting on the legal system of any country it is necessary to be accurate on facts and not to create the impression in the minds of the readers that once a court has decided on the death sentence nothing can be done to change it.

Already four Sri Lankans have been executed in Saudi Arabia whose lives may have been saved if legal representation had been made at their initial trials and the appeals stage.

Your news item mentions that Minister Hussain Bhaila will be visiting Saudi Arabia on Friday 13th to make an appeal on compassionate grounds before the deadline of the 16th. In fact there is no deadline for making an appeal on compassionate grounds, either to the family of the deceased infant or to the King of Saudi Arabia.

In any event, if Minister Bhaila is leaving Sri Lanka on Friday 13th, there is nothing he can do to ensure the filing of an appeal before the 16th since when he arrives it will be the Muslim Holy Day followed by the normal Saudi weekend of Saturday. Besides this, there is no guarantee at all that the family of the deceased infant wants to meet with him. We understand that the Sri Lankan embassy’s attempts to meet the family have so far failed.

The news item on the 11th mentions the payment of blood money which is a completely baseless story. The family of the deceased infant have at no stage made any request for this and publication of such news, if it came to the notice of this family can be extremely counterproductive to the efforts of thousands of people who have been writing to them to grant pardon for Rizana on compassionate grounds. An appeal has also been made to Muslim scholars throughout the world to intervene in this matter on the basis of compassionate understanding of an accident, which happened due to the inexperience of a person who was herself a child, who was ordered to look after a four month old infant.

It is sad to see that your newspaper is trying to create a completely false picture of what is happening to the case and the appeal, while the world media including the World Service of the BBC and many leading media channels have given very accurate accounts of this case. The BBC Sinhala Service must also be credited for accurate reporting on this case on several occasions during the last few weeks. In fact, it was the BBC Sinhala Service that brought the news about the death sentence to public notice in the first instance. Sadly, it is well known newspapers like the Daily News that should have been providing such information to the Sri Lankan public to create an awareness about the need to protect the migrant workers of Sri Lanka. In fact, what your paper has done is the very opposite of what is to be expected from a newspaper adhering to norms and standards of accurate reporting and sharing of information to the country.

Thank you.

Yours faithfully,

John Sloan
PS to Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.