SRI LANKA: Rizana Nafeek — Death Sentence confirmed 

October 26, 2010

An Open Letter to President Mahinda Rajapakse

Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
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,

SRI LANKA: Rizana Nafeek — Death Sentence confirmed

I am writing this to request your intervention to save the life of a young Sri Lankan Muslim girl, a migrant worker who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia. The case is well known to you and, in fact, you have in the past discussed this case with Sri Lankan Embassy personnel in Saudi Arabia and one of your ministers was also sent to that country to intervene in her case. The matter has been brought to you notice since 2007.

As you are aware an appeal was made on her behalf for which the lawyer’s fee was paid by human rights organisations and the Embassy personnel arranged the lawyers. After the appeal the Embassy personnel informed that they were following up the case before the courts. The appeal was pending for a long time as the sole witness who allegedly took the confession from the then 17-year-old Rizana Nafeek was missing. To our knowledge the court was unable to locate him. However, the Arab News Agency reported today that the court had confirmed her death sentence.

It is disconcerting to note that the officers of the Ministry of External Affairs and the officers of the Embassy in Riyadh kept the confirmation of Rizana’s death sentence a secret and made no public disclosure on the matter. Had it not been for the accidental visit by a concerned person who discovered the confirmation the whole matter may have remained secret and the unfortunate girl may have suffered the ultimate punishment before anyone, including her family, knew of it. I earnestly request you to also look into this aspect of the matter.

As you are well aware a death sentence by beheading can be carried out in Saudi Arabia quite quickly. Now the saving of the life of this young girl depends on the speedy pardon by His Royal Highness The King. There cannot be any quicker way of doing this than your own direct intervention as the head of state of Sri Lanka with His Royal Highness. King Abdulla has been quoted in his official website as saying, “We regard human rights as a gift to mankind from the Creator, and not one gratuitously granted by one human being to another. Such human rights exist in the roots of every human civilization and are not a monopoly of one culture.”As this case if obviously not made on the basis of any guilt on the part of this then 17-year-old girl who was merely trying to feed a child who suffocated due to her inexperience, your intervention is needed and is well justified.”

I sincerely hope you will personally intervene and do your utmost to save the life of this young Muslim girl who went to work in a foreign country because of dire poverty. If the death sentence is to be executed your government will be justly held responsible for this unjustifiable death which could have been avoided if the government provided the protection she deserved as a citizen as well as a young migrant worker working in an environment where justice is limited.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Policy & Programmes

The details are as follows:

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) draws your attention to the appeal made in 2007 into the case of 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. However, she completely 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. Just yesterday, when the Embassy was contacted by an international press agency an Embassy spokesman stated that the case was still pending for consideration of pardon by the family.

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 AHRC wrote to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently intervene with the Saudi authorities for gaining pardon for the maid.

We once again urge you to intervene urgently and write to His Royal Highness, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud.


The death sentence has been confirmed in the case of Rizana Nafeek. She was charged with strangling the 4-month-old child of the family for whom she worked as a housemaid. She was legally allowed only 30 days from the date of the court order to make her appeal. An appeal was made on her behalf by the intervention of human rights groups who paid for the lawyers and her death sentence was set aside pending appeal.

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 by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child.

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OLT-011-2010
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,