WORLD: An Open Letter to His Excellency the President of Sri Lankan on matters relating to the case of Rizana Nafeek and an appreciation of the role of the Sri Lankan Ambassador in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

His Excellency the Hon. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
President Socialist Democratic Republic of  Sri Lanka
C/- Office of the President
Temple Trees, 150, Galle Road
Colombo 3

Fax: +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2446657

Your Excellency,

Re: Matters relating to the case of Rizana Nafeek and an appreciation of the role of the Sri Lankan

I am writing to you regarding several matters relating to the case of Rizana Nafeek, who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia and on whose behalf an appeal has now been lodged.

I am happy to inform you that the Asian Human Rights Commission received overwhelming support from persons and organisations, both in Sri Lanka and outside, who have contributed to the legal fees needed to retain Messers Kateb Fahad Al-Shammari – Attorneys-at-Law, to represent Rizana Nafeek in the Dawadami Courts. The legal firm has acted promptly after being retained; they visited the Dawadami Prison and obtained the power of attorney from Rizana and filed the preliminary papers for her appeal. Thus, her death sentence will now remain suspended until the final outcome of the appeal.

Messers Kateb Fahad Al-Shammari are now preparing a more detailed appeal, taking into consideration all the circumstances of this case from every possible angle. There is good reason to hope that this appeal will succeed and that Rizana Nafeek will be able to return, safely to her home.

The Asian Human Rights Commission has also sought advice from Muslim scholars from around the world on several issues relating to this appeal. They are: the value attached to a confession obtained under duress; the legal implications of the accused being a minor at the time of the alleged commission of the offense; the manner in which the mental element of a crime is assessed under Islamic law in general and in particular in the circumstances of this case; the right of an accused to legal representation at a trial in which the alleged crime carries the possibility of capital punishment; the rights of an alien who is unaware of the law, the language and the culture of the receiving country to have assistance in order that he or she may participate in the trial with adequate comprehension of what is going on and the issue of proportionality of punishment as compared to the offense. We are hopeful that we will get feedback on these issues, which, hopefully, will help in her appeal.

I am also happy to inform you that globally, the plea on behalf of this teenager received overwhelming support. Literally, thousands of letters have been written, seeking clemency on her behalf, to the Saudi Arabian government as well as to the family of the deceased infant, who have the preeminent right to pardon Rizana Nafeek. The global media has also given extensive and sympathetic coverage to the plight of this young girl.

The Asian Human Rights Commission takes this opportunity to compliment and to express appreciation of the excellent intervention of the Ambassador of Sri Lanka in Riyadh, the Hon. A.M.J. Sadiq for making it possible for us to contribute the legal fees in this case and in other ways to help in the case of this young Sri Lankan teenager.

On July 9, 2007 the Asian Human Rights Commission wrote to the Ambassador expressing the AHRC’s willingness to undertake the cost of this appeal, which the Sri Lankan Ambassador had taken up with Your Excellency’s government and we received the following reply from him on the very same day:

I forwarded the letter immediately to the Foreign Ministry in Colombo and sought their advice. The Ministry has informed that there is no objection to the AHRC undertaking the legal expenses to file the judicial appeal on behalf of Sri Lankan national Rizana Nafeek, who has been sentenced to death by the Dawadami High Court last month. The Ministry has further instructed this Mission to facilitate this endeavour.

On the basis of the Ambassador’s letter to us, referred to above, the very next day the Asian Human Rights Commission deposited the required initial fees in favour of Messers Kateb Fahad Al-Shammari and the legal firm immediately took steps to file the appeal. In recognising the Ambassador’s role in this matter the Asian Human Rights Commission wrote to the Ambassador stating our appreciation thus:

I am also taking this opportunity to express my appreciation of your handling of a very complex and delicate situation so competently. You have managed to combine conscience with diplomacy and been able to harness the support of various elements that, unfortunately, do not often get the chance to collaborate constructively for the common good. While Rizana Nafeek’s case is very important in saving her life, I am sure it will also go towards establishing a principle of the duties owed to migrant workers, not only by the government, but also civil society.

The Sunday Times on July 22, 2007, reported that the Ambassador has been recalled. It is not our intention to comment on the internal matters of the government; however, we are concerned that the case of Rizana Nafeek can be adversely affected in the circumstances. It has become possible on this occasion; unlike in the situation of the four persons who were beheaded earlier, to take some appropriate legal action and, in fact, this occasion should be used as a lesson on how to deal with similar situations in the future. We understand that there are other Sri Lankans facing rather serious problems before Saudi Arabian courts.

Under these circumstances we would suggest the government of Sri Lanka to review its policy regarding the legal protection that should be available to Sri Lankan citizens who work as migrant workers abroad. Already, several suggestions have been made from many sources that the relevant international agreements should be signed between Saudi Arabia and Sri Lanka (as well as in other countries where Sri Lankan migrant workers are employed), to secure their rights once they face criminal charges or punishments. Such agreements can make it possible for the Sri Lankan government to prosecute or punish these cases under Sri Lankan law and, in case they are tried in a foreign land, to ensure that they get proper legal representation through the services of the receiving country. Until such agreements are arrived at the Sri Lankan government should provide such services and seek, if necessary, the services of other citizens and organisations, local or international to assist the government in this regard.

We hope that the case of Rizana Nafeek will awaken the government, as well as the citizens and all persons concerned with the welfare of the migrant workers and their human rights, to take the necessary action to be able to provide effective services for persons who may face difficult problems abroad in the future.

Assuring you of our highest cooperation on all matters relating to the protection and promotion of human rights, of all Sri Lankan citizens, I remain,

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

cc: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sri Lanka

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-023-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,