GENERAL APPEAL(Saudi Arabia/Sri Lanka): A Special Appeal under Extraordinary Circumstances for Nafeek Rizana
July 6, 2007
URGENT APPEALS - GENERAL URGENT APPEALS - GENERAL
ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME
6 July 2007
Urgent Appeal General
UG-004-2007: SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: A Special Appeal under Extraordinary Circumstances for Nafeek Rizana
SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Right to life; death penalty
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is making this special appeal, choosing a mode of appeal which is exceptional as compared to our usual appeals due to the extraordinary circumstances of this case. For previous references to this case, please see: UA-207-2007, UP-093-2007, AHRC-PL-023-2007.
PURPOSE OF A SPECIAL APPEAL:
This case concerns Nafeek 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 AHRC 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.
Nafeek 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 Nafeek 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 2005 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. Nafeek 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 Nafeek 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 Nafeek 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, Nafeek Rizana. Such pardon will be valid in law under the Saudi Arabian legal system.
The AHRC 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.
Under these circumstances the AHRC is of the view that there is justification to appeal for compassionate understanding, mercy and pardon from the head of the family, who has lost their baby. In taking this approach we do not wish to blame or to harass this unfortunate family which has already faced the tragedy. Our sole approach is, to very respectfully, appeal to their compassionate understanding.
As we do not wish to harass the family in any way, we propose that all appeals to the family should be made through the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We do not wish to write directly to the family or to bombard them with letters. Instead our request is for concerned persons to write to the contact address of the Sri Lankan Embassy which we believe will hand over the letters to the family. We give below a draft letter which we encourage all concerned persons throughout the world to send through the contact address provided. If anyone wishes change the language of the appeal we urge that in every possible way understanding of the sufferings of this family should be shown and the family should be treated with the utmost respect.
(Writing of letters in Arabic is also encouraged)
Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khklafal Otaibi
Ministry of Finance, Riyadh
C/O Sri Lankan Embassy
P.O. Box 94360
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 Nafeek Rizana.
Nafeek 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.
Nafeek 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 Nafeek 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.
Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (firstname.lastname@example.org)