SRI LANKA/SAUDI ARABIA: Rizana’s trial in Saudi takes a new turn 

The case of Rizana Nafeek, the underaged Sri Lankan housemaid who was found guilty of the death of a Saudi infant in May 2005, has taken a new turn. The court in Dawadmi where Nafeek was initially tried has referred the case once again to the Supreme Judicial Council in Riyadh.

The referral is accompanied by a new statement from the police who took Nafeek’s alleged confession, embassy officials said on Wednesday. No details about the new statement were available.

The case has been bouncing between courts over the past year. It first arrived in the high court in Riyadh in March 2008.

In November the high court announced that a key witness to what happened on the day Nafeek allegedly made her confession, the Lankan translator, had left the Kingdom and would be unavailable for testimony. Nafeek is appealing a death sentence. The parents of the infant accused her of murdering the child; she claims the infant choked while being bottle-fed.

Nafeek was trafficked into the country to work as a housemaid on a passport that falsely stated her age as 23. Her original birth certificate indicates she was 17 at the time, which would have barred her from work in the Kingdom.

The act not only violated the Kingdom’s own laws against utilizing under-age labor, but it also constitutes human trafficking on the part of the recruiter who sent her to the Kingdom.

A court advocate for the accused from the Sri Lanka Embassy expressed concern that Nafeek had been in prison for five years while the system sought to dispense justice.  “We visit her often and will console her until a final verdict is given,” said the official who did not want to be named.

Nafeek was spared execution last year on the last day of the deadline for appeal when she was assigned a lawyer, retained with the help of the Asian Human Rights Commission and the Lankan community in Saudi Arabia. Khateb Al-Shammary, the lawyer, cited several reasons why the maid should not be executed.

In addition to the issue of Nafeek’s age, the legal representative says she was assigned the duties of a nanny and assigned the care of a newborn in addition to her duties as a housekeeper.

The lawyer also says that since Nafeek had only been on the job for seven days, there was not enough time for her to harbor ill will that would cause her, as the parents of the dead baby allege, to murder of the newborn out of anger and vengeance.

Nafeek maintains that her confession is invalid because it was produced under duress and with inadequate translation. Nafeek arrived on May 4, 2005, three months after her 17th birthday, to work for Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi and his family in Dawadmi, 390km west of Riyadh.

The incident in which the infant died occurred around 12:30 p.m. on May 22, 2005, while Nafeek was bottle-feeding the child. On the same day, she was in the police station, allegedly confessing that she had murdered the child.

Kifaya Ifthikar, a social worker who visited Nafeek last week told Arab News that Nafeek spent her time embroidering pillow covers. Nafeek’s family has requested the Sri Lankan government to assign a negotiator to encourage the Al-Otaibi family to forgive Nafeek during Ramadan.

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Document Type : Forwarded Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-FPR-038-2009
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Campaigns : Save Rizana Nafeek
Issues : Death penalty,