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UPDATE (Saudi Arabia/Sri Lanka): Please immediately write to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to save the life of its citizen

July 3, 2007

UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL UPDATE ON URGENT APPEAL

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Update on Urgent Appeal

3 July 2007

[RE: UA-207-2007: SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Death sentence to young girl requires urgent intervention by the Sri Lankan government]
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UP-093-2007: SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Please immediately write to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to save the life of its citizen

SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Death penalty; legal assistance
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) urgently requests you to write to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to save one Sri Lankan girl Nafeek Rizana, who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia. For details of the original case, please see: UA-207-2007.

Rizana's family could not file an appeal before the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia because they were unable to meet the cost of litigation which amounts to Rs. 600,000 (approximately 5,400 US dollars). Although the deadline for the appeal will expire soon, the Sri Lankan government hesitates to provide financial support for legal assistance. If she looses the chance of appeal, Rizana will face execution. Please strongly urge the Sri Lankan government to bear the cost of litigation so that she can file an appeal to the Supreme Court in time. The contact information of the Ministry of the Foreign Affairs and the sample letter have been attached below.

For your information, we have reproduced our open letter to Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona, the Secretary of Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of the Sri Lankan government relating to this matter.

[AHRC OPEN LETTER]

Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Secretary / Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic Building
Colombo 01
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94-11-5357407, 2446091, 2333450
Email:
sfa@formin.gov.lk

Dear Dr. Kohona,

Re: Rizana Nasik of Mutur - the young girl facing death sentence by beheading: 
Matter relating to legal assistance for her appeal

I am sure you are aware of the death sentence pronounced on Nafeek Rizana of Mutur by a Court in Saudi Arabia and who is now awaiting the death sentence. She still has time for filing an appeal which has to be done soon. We have been informed that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been in contact with Nafeek Rizana’s family in Mutur. This family belongs to the lower income group and is totally unable to meet the cost of litigation which according to your embassy sources in Saudi Arabia amounts to about Rs. 600,000.  We also understand that the father of Nafeek Rizana has met Foreign Ministry officials in Colombo and has already explained to them that the family does not have means to contribute to this appeal.

We also understand that the Sri Lankan embassy in Saudi Arabia has already made representations to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs requesting funds to enable filing of this appeal. There also seems to be good grounds for appeal since the entire case had been conducted in a language not understood by her and also without any meaningful interpretation provided to her. She had also not been legally represented at the trial. She is also quite young and is said to have left for employment a few months ago when she was only about 17 years of age. Furthermore the totality of evidence against her is supposed to be a confession which she had later withdrawn. In a foreign country under such circumstances and being of such young age, it is quite possible that she may have made the confession under duress.

Nonetheless, such defenses are hardly of much use within the legal system of Saudi Arabia. A Sri Lankan citizen—particularly of that young age—facing a criminal trial carrying the possibility of the death sentence which within the particular jurisdiction is carried out rapidly Rizana Nasik would have deserved legal assistance from the embassy of her country from the very beginning. However, even at this late stage, the Government of Sri Lanka owes it to this young Sri Lankan citizen to rapidly intervene and assist her. According to interviews in the media, it appears that what prevents granting her legal redress is some rule, regulation or policy that seems to deny legal assistance by the Sri Lankan Government to Sri Lankans migrating to other countries who are accused of criminal charges. I am sure you would agree that there is no legal basis to withdraw the protection that the government of a particular country owes to its citizens in this manner. Particularly, migrant workers who leave their countries for employment should not be deprived of legal protection merely because they are accused of some crime. As you are aware, the Sri Lankan Constitution recognizes the presumption of innocence of a person until proven guilty.

It is hardly necessary to remind you of the fate of 4 other Sri Lankans who were beheaded recently—one of whom was in fact sentenced only for 15 years of rigorous imprisonment. Even when that matter was being publicly discussed, Sri Lankan embassy officials in Saudi Arabia made promises to provide legal assistance to enable these 4 persons to reviews their cases even at that last stage. The President of the country at the time, Chandrika Kumaratunga made a public statement, which was published on the front page of some newspapers, that she will directly intervene with His Royal Highness of Saudi Arabia to seek pardon on behalf of these 4 persons. The present President as Prime Minister then and later as President also made several public statements assuring that all attempts would be made to assist the 4 persons facing death sentence. However, when the death sentence was in fact carried out, no one—including embassy officials in Saudi Arabia—was aware of it.

We are writing this to bring to your kind notice the pitiful plight of this young woman and to urge you to take all appropriate actions to ensure that she will be provided with legal assistance to enable her to file this appeal. We also urge you to review any rule, regulation or policy that may exist obstructing the granting of protection owing to such a citizen.

We hope that you will graciously and expeditiously intervene in this matter.

Thank you,

Yours faithfully,


SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please immediately write to the Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and demand the Sri Lankan government's immediate financial support for the ligitagion cost so that Rizana can file an appeal before the Supreme Court.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Sample letter:

Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Secretary / Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic Building
Colombo 01
Sri Lanka
Fax: 94-11-5357407, 2446091, 2333450
Email:
sfa@formin.gov.lk

Dear Dr. Kohona,

SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Please immediately provide financial assistance to Rizana Nafeek for filing an appeal before the Supreme Court

I urgently request the Government of Sri Lanka to bear the litigation cost of your citizen, Nafeek Rizana, who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia.

I am informed that Rizana's family could not file an appeal before the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia because they were unable to meet the cost of litigation which amounts to Rs. 600,000 (approximately 5,400 US dollars). I am concerned to hear that your government hesitates to provide financial support for legal assistance, although the deadline for appeal will expire soon.

Under the Constitution of Sri Lanka, your government has an obligation to protect the rights of your citizens. Please also consider that if she looses the chance of appeal, Rizana will face execution.

I therefore request your ministry to provide legal assistance to enable her to file her appeal without delay. I also urge you to review any rule, regulation or policy that may obstruct the granting of protection owed to such a citizen.

I hope that you will immediately intervene in this matter.

Thank you,

Yours faithfully,

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Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (
ua@ahrchk.org)

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Update
Document ID :
UP-093-2007
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.