SRI LANKA: Imminent execution of three Sri Lankans on Saudi Arabian death row can be prevented only by the Sri Lankan government providing legal fees for their appeals in time

The only way to prevent the three convicted Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia from facing public execution by beheading is to lodge an appeal within 30 days from the date of conviction and this can only be done if the Sri Lankan government provides legal fees for lodging appeals on their behalf through the Sri Lankan Consulate General in Jeddah.

However, there are conflicting reports about what the Sri Lankan government will do regarding the three Sri Lankans who have been sentenced to death. The Daily News states that the foreign ministry has directed the Consulate General to ‘facilitate the filing’ of the appeals. However, the Arab News, quoted Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Hussein Bhaila, as saying “It is up to the convicts to appeal their sentences.” While it is difficult to decide who is stating the official government position it can be said that Daily News reports are usually unreliable as the paper in recent times has a reputation for creating misinformation and not even publishing disclaimers when made by the affected parties. On the other hand Minister Hussien Bhaila’s statement is more in conformity with the policy of the Sri Lankan government so far in not providing legal fees for cases for foreign workers facing trials abroad. In the famous case of Rizana Nafeek also, the Sri Lankan government refused to pay the legal fees to the lawyers.

Two main questions arise regarding the death sentences. While the charges are grave ones of murder and robbery did the convicted persons have a fair trial? Further, the issue of the death sentence itself, whatever are the justifiability of the verdict and also the practice of beheading in a public place, are further issues.

On the issue of the nature of the trial the public have had no access to any information. It is the duty of the Sri Lankan consulate in Jeddah to provide that information. However, judging from earlier experience it is not unsafe to conclude that there could have been serious defects in the trial procedure. Did the accused get proper translations at all of the stages of the investigations and trial? In the case of Rizana Nafeek serious doubts have arisen about the translation of her alleged confession. Whether there was a translator at all or whether the translator knew Tamil, which was Rizana’s language, has left serious doubts. In this case judging by the names, as all the three persons are Sinhalese, it is fair to question as to whether there was a Sinhala translator at the time of the investigation as well as at the trial. If there was no such translation that is a fundamental issue that will vitiate the verdict. On the earlier occasions where Sri Lankans were tried in Saudi Arabia no legal assistance was provided by the Sri Lankan or Saudi governments for the accused. If there was no legal representation this is also a fundamental flaw and a denial of fair trial.

It is the duty of the Sri Lankan government to inform the families of the accused, as well as the public, as to how the due process rights of these three persons have been respected in this trial. It is the duty of the Sri Lankan government to ensure fair trial for Sri Lankan citizens wherever they face the trial. The Sri Lankan government is a party to the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations, as is Saudi Arabia. (Please see the following link: Under this treaty the government of the sending country has a right to request the government where such trials take place to ensure the legal rights of the accused. Therefore the main burden of ensuring a fair trial lies with the Sri Lankan government.

If the Sri Lankan government has failed to ensure a fair trial by carrying out state obligations then it is their duty to pay the legal fees for the appeal. To fail in ensuring a fair trial would be further worsened if it were to be followed by the refusal to pay the legal fees for the appeal. The duty to provide legal fees should also be looked at from the point of view of the rights of migrant workers. Migrant workers are one of the main earners of foreign exchange for the country. They work under very harsh conditions and are very vulnerable to abuse. They have hardly any legal rights or recognition in the countries in which they work. That is a greater reason for the Sri Lankan government to take responsibility on their behalf.

The further issue is the death sentence and the manner in which it is carried out. The United Nations have agreed on a global moratorium on the death sentence. The Sri Lankan government, though it keeps the death sentence on the book has the practice of not carrying it out and usually a presidential pardon is granted and the death sentence is commuted to life imprisonment. Sri Lankan has a duty to make representation to the government of Saudi Arabia in order to ensure that the death sentences are not carried out. It has been revealed that such requests for clemency should be made by the head of the Sri Lankan government, the Executive President to His Royal Highness the King of Saudi Arabia.

The people in Sri Lanka and elsewhere should write to the Sri Lankan government about its obligations and the government of Saudi Arabia calling for clemency to be exercised in this case. Letters may be sent to:

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

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Court, Riyadh

HRH Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud
Minister of Interior
PO Box 2933
Riyadh 11134

Fax: +(966) 1-403 1185

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-266-2008
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,