WORLD: An appeal to Muslim scholars throughout the world

(The case of a teenage girl facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia as the result of a tragedy being misunderstood as a crime)

The Asian Human Rights Commission is writing this appeal to all the Muslim scholars in the world regarding the case that the AHRC believes deserves of all Muslim scholars.

This is a case where a teenage girl, who was in charge of bottle feeding a four-month old child, which due to her inexperience resulted in an accident of the child choking and while she was desperately trying to help by way of soothing and stroking the chest, face and neck of the baby a tragic death took place. These circumstances are explained below. However, due to misunderstandings this case was presented as the murder of a baby by strangulation and the teenager was sentenced to death by a court in Saudi Arabia on June, 16.

After careful consideration of all facts we are of the view that what has happened is an enormous tragedy but it can lead to, if not prevented soon, a further tragedy of an innocent inexperienced teenager being executed.

We believe that this is a case in which scholarly considerations can help to make the necessary reflections distinguishing a tragedy from a crime and from such reflections interventions can be made to prevent a further tragedy taking place. We believe that the Muslim scholars, if they think it appropriate can communicate with this unfortunate family, faced with this situation to provide them with wise advise to help them deal with this issue.

Details of the relevant incidents:

This case concerns Naffeek Rizana who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia, allegedly for the strangulation of a four month old baby. Through close study of the case the Asian Human Rights Commission is satisfied that, in fact, what has taken place was the tragic death of a baby in the process of being fed by an inexperienced teenager.

Naffeek Rizana 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 Naffeek Rizana, 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.

Later in 2007 she went to work at the house of Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khklafal 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. Naffeek Rizana 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 Naffeek Rizana 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.

There is a period of one month for the lodging of an appeal. However, an appeal has not yet been lodged. The initiative for lodging the appeal is with the Sri Lankan government. The AHRC also understands that the Sri Lankan authorities have sought the help of a legal firm which had initially demanded the equivalent of US$ 160,000. In the initially reports in the media there were different figures quoted. However, this matter has now been clarified. The Foreign Ministry in Colombo, Sri Lanka has not authorised such money and the family of Naffeek Rizana is of course unable to raise any funds for her appeal. This matter of legal assistance is being pursued with the government at the moment.

However, under Saudi Arabian law it is the prerogative of the family of the victim, in this case the parents of the baby that has the right to pardon the teenaged, Naffeek Rizana. Such pardon will be valid in law under the Saudi Arabian legal system.

The Asian Human Rights Commission is of the view that was has happened is a tragedy and not a crime. At no stage was any allegation made of any animosity between the teenaged helper and the family. If such animosity existed it is very unlikely that a four month old infant would have been handed over to her care. The inexperience of the helper, as well as the difficulties of communication due to the language problems have ended up in an extremely unfortunate situation being misunderstood as a crime. If the nature of this tragedy is not dealt with within a matter of days from now there will be a further tragedy of a teenaged, inexperienced helper being given capital punishment for a crime she did not commit or intend to commit.

Contact details of the family:

Those scholars who wish to offer their advice to the family may do so through the following address c/o the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khklafal Otaibi
Ministry of Finance, Riyadh
C/O Sri Lankan Embassy
P.O. Box 94360
Riyadh 19693
Saudi Arabia,

For a sample letter written by the Asian Human Rights Commission to the family please see below:

Dear Mr. Otaibi,

May the peace of God be upon you during this time of grief in your family. I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to you and your wife over the loss of your child.

The loss of any life is a tragedy, and it is in this spirit that I share with you my concerns for the life of the teenage girl Naffeek Rizana.

Naffeek Rizana comes from an extremely poor family in the war-torn eastern part of Sri Lanka where many people, including the Muslim community, are facing grave economic and other daily hardships. Due to this, many underage young people are sent to other countries for employment in order to feed their impoverished families.

Naffeek Rizana was born on February 4, 1988. The individuals who recruited her for employment in your country altered her date of birth to February 2, 1982, and obtained a passport for her to travel to Saudi Arabia. At the time of her employment in your household, she was therefore still a teenager without any experience of looking after a baby. My understanding is that her inexperience resulted in the accidental death of your child and that this was not an intentional act to harm your family.

I am therefore writing this letter to appeal to your compassion to pardon and forgive the teenage girl Naffeek Rizana who is now facing a death sentence. It is to your compassion and understanding that I appeal in the hope that you will find it in your heart to forgive this unfortunate girl.

Yours sincerely,

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-155-2007
Countries : Bangladesh, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand,
Issues : Death penalty,