SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: The Rizana Nafeek appeal postponed indefinitely

The case of Rizana Nafeek, a young girl from Sri Lanka who went to Saudi Arabia as a domestic helper when a 17 year-old teenager, and who was within a very short time accused of the murder of a infant under her charge, has been pending before the Dawadami High Court. Rizana’s defense has always been that the death was accidental. This case was again postponed because the witnesses who were called to testify about the authenticity of the translator, who has left the country, were not present in court on January 4, 2009. Previously the case has been called on November 6, 2008, October 5, 2008 and August 31, 2008. The case was sent to the Dawadami High Court by the Supreme Judicial Council on August 19 2008. The alleged incident of murder happened in May 2005 and ever since Rizana has been in jail. 

According to reports she is at present unwell and is expected to undergo surgery in February this year. In the meantime, the appeal has been postponed indefinitely. 

The appeal in this case was filed by a firm of lawyers, Kateb Al-Shammari, with funds raised by the Asian Human Rights Commission. 

Rizana Nafeek is now indefinitely confined to jail due to the alleged translator, named Saibo, having left Saudi Arabia. The lawyers acting for Rizana have expressed doubts about the credentials and the validity of the translation which is supposed to be a confession by Rizana, who is a Tamil language speaker. Doubt has been expressed about the translator’s knowledge of the Tamil language. 

As the translator is out of Saudi Arabia the court has no way to verify his qualifications and the credibility of his translation. Under these circumstances two witnesses were called to testify as to his integrity and qualifications, which is permitted under Saudi law. However, these witnesses also failed to appear. The result is that the appeal is not being heard and Rizana continues to remain in jail through no fault of her own. 

Perhaps attempts should be made to alert the Supreme Judicial Council about this situation and also to draw the attention of His Majesty, King Abdullah Bin-Abd-al-Aziz Al Saud, in order to bring this impasse to an end. We reproduce below the report published in the Arab News, on January 4 which was written by Mohammed Rasooldeen.

RIYADH: The Dawadmi High Court indefinitely postponed yesterday the case of Rizana Nafeek, the Sri Lankan maid sentenced to death in 2007 for death of an infant in her care. The fate of the young woman, who is fighting a death sentence, at this point depends largely on the alleged confession she made. 

Two witnesses who were to vouch for the character of the Tamil translator of the confession — who has since left the country — did not appear in court, which led to the postponement. 

A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Abdullah Al-Rosaimi took up the case yesterday to hear the two witnesses to vouch for the Mustaffa Saibo’s honesty, integrity and ability to translate from Tamil. 

During the last hearing, which took place on Nov. 4, Nafeek’s lawyer Kateb Al-Shammari said Saibo should be questioned in court for clarifications regarding accuracy of his translation. 
The lawyer said the court couldn’t come to a conclusion without questioning the veracity of Saibo’s statements on which the death sentence was based. 

Shammari said that the police in the area also were expected to present two witnesses who knew Saibo to the local court in Jezmi, which in turn will present them to the Dawadmi High Court. 
The Dawadmi high court reviewed the case yesterday on the instructions of the Supreme Judicial Council. The case has bounced between these courts and through the Court of Cassation numerous times. 

The father of the deceased infant, Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi, who has regularly appeared for these hearings, was not seen in court this time. Prison authorities also did not bring Nafeek. 
Sri Lankan Ambassador Abdul Ageed Mohamed Marleen said that Nafeek had to wait till the case is taken up again. The date for the next hearing is unknown. 

He said some reconciliatory efforts with Al-Otaibi would prevent the maid languishing in jail for a longer term. He did not elaborate. 

Kifaya Ifhtikar, a social worker who met Nafeek yesterday in the prison, said the maid looked sick and the doctors had advised her to undergo a surgery for hernia. Nafeek told Ifhtikar that the surgery might take place in early February after her health improved. 

Nafeek arrived in Riyadh on May 4, 2005, and quickly began work as a housemaid in the Al-Otaibi household in Dawadami, 390 km west of the capital. Apart from performing the daily household chores, Rizana had also been entrusted with the responsibility of looking after her employer’s four-month old infant son, which she was not trained to do. 

The incident that led to the death of the infant occurred around 12:30 p.m. on May 22, 2005, while the accused maid was bottle-feeding the infant. 

Rizana claims the baby accidentally choked and that she tried to get help; the parents claim she committed premeditated murder. 

Further complicating the case is the fact that Rizana came to Saudi Arabia prior to her 18th birthday on a passport that had faked her date of birth. It is illegal for people under the age of 18 to travel to Saudi Arabia to work and sending minors (as defined by persons under the age of 18) to work is a human trafficking crime. To this day the recruiter involved with forging a Lankan passport and facilitating Nafeek’s move to the Kingdom has not been arrested, identified or charged with this violation of international and national laws regarding the exploitation of minors.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-003-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,