x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Saudi Arabia upholds death sentence for young woman

Saudi Arabia¿s Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a young Sri Lankan woman convicted of the 2005 murder of a four-month-old Saudi infant.

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia's Supreme Court has upheld the death sentence for a young Sri Lankan woman convicted of the 2005 murder of a four-month-old Saudi infant placed in her care - a death she claims was an accident.

A diplomat at the Sri Lankan embassy in Riyadh, who asked not to be identified by name, confirmed that after years of appeals, the high court recently endorsed the sentence against Rizana Nafeek, who was 17 years old at the time of the infant's death. He added that her file would now go to the provincial governor, the interior ministry and cabinet of ministers for their consideration.

The parents of the infant, who contend that Nafeek strangled their child, could save her from the death sentence if they agreed to pardon her, but so far they have not done so.

Nafeek's 2007 conviction was based solely on a confession she is alleged to have made the day that the child was found dead. She later disputed the confession, saying that she had not understood her Arabic-speaking police interrogators. The man who acted as her interpreter during the interrogation left the Kingdom before her trial, and Nafeek was not represented by a lawyer.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission, which has been assisting with Nafeek's appeal, has said that the child's death was a tragic accident that should not be compounded by executing Nafeek, who was a juvenile at the time of the incident.

The commission noted that Riyadh has ratified conventions banning capital punishment for crimes committed by juveniles.

Nafeek "is facing the death sentence for a mistake made while feeding a four-month-old baby which resulted in the death of the child, which sadly, has been misunderstood as a crime", the commission has said. The Arab News daily newspaper in Jeddah reported yesterday that the commission's executive director, Basil Fernando, said he would seek help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to resolve the case. He also appealed to the child's parents to spare Nafeek's life by granting her clemency.

In Riyadh, neither the government-appointed Human Rights Commission, nor the semi-independent National Human Rights Society responded to requests for comment.

The Saudi lawyer Kateb al Shammary, who the commission hired to handle Nafeek's appeal, also did not comment.

Nafeek, who comes from a poor family, was recruited to work in the Kingdom by a Sri Lankan agency that forged her passport to say she was 23 so as not to violate international anti-human trafficking laws and Saudi labour regulations, a Sri Lankan diplomat said.

She was sent to Dawadmi, a town 400km west of Riyadh, and had only been in the family's employ for two weeks when the child was found dead. Recruited to work as a housemaid, Nafeek had not been trained in bottle-feeding an infant.

She is being held in a one-storey house converted into a women's detention centre, according to a Sri Lankan social worker.