The case of Rizana Nafeek – a teenage Sri Lankan housemaid sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia after inadequate legal proceedings – has made a sensation in the island nation. This article is about her from a circulating e-mail in Sri Lanka.
Rizana was born on 4 February 1988 in Muttur, a war-torn and impoverished Muslim majority village in eastern Sri Lanka which was also affected by the recent Tsunami. She was still a schoolgirl when she was compelled by poverty to go to Saudi Arabia as a maid in May 2005. Though she was only 17 years old at that time, her passport, obtained by an irresponsible employment agent under false pretenses, gave her date of birth as 2 February 1982.
A few days after her arrival in Riyadh , Rizana was transferred by her sponsor to work in his family household in Dawadami, about 390 km west of Riyadh . She was sent to the house of Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khklafal Otaibi, whose wife had a baby boy who was then four months old. Soon after she started working for this family she was assigned to bottle feed the baby – she was left alone when doing this task. Rizana Nafeek had no experience of any sort in caring for such a young infant, as she was only a child herself.
Rizana’s Family In front of their home
Mohammad Razeena, center, mother of Rizana Nafeek, with her two sisters
Rizana’s House in Muttur, Sri Lanka
On 22 May 2005, while Rizana was feeding the child, he started choking. Panicking, she tried to soothe the child by rubbing his chest, neck and face, while shouting for help. Hearing her shouts the mother came running, but by that time the baby was either unconscious or dead. The family handed Rizana over to the police, accusing her of strangling the baby. At the police station there was no translator so she did not understand the charges brought against her. Rizana 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 told by the police to repeat her confession, which she did. Later, when she was finally able to talk to an interpreter, sent by the Sri Lankan embassy, she explained in her own language what actually happened. 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. But, 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.
The last date of appeal was July 16. The total cost of the appeal is 40,000 US dollars or 150,000 Saudi Riyals. 13,333 US dollars has been given to the lawyers by the Asian Human Rights Commission as the Sri Lanka government has not given money for the appeal. A Sri Lankan government delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Bhaila is hoping to travel to Saudi Arabia to press for Rizana’s release.
The question is what can be done for someone who has not received proper legal representation, and from all accounts, appears to have been wrongly convicted. There are a number of human rights organizations working on the issue, including Amnesty and the Asian Human Rights Centre. Please do visit the AHRC site as it includes a call for ordinary people to take action on this issue. The site also goes in to more detail about the background of Rizana’s situation.
What We Can Do
- Inform world-wide of the case and get them to relay pressure on the governments of the countries they live in to intervene. People in Europe and Australia could be very effective.
- Approach the British High Commission in Riyadh that a Commonwealth citizen needs assistance.
- Contact the Foreign Commonwealth Office and inform them a Commonwealth citizen needs assistance in Riyadh .
- Encourage the media, especially the international media, to give publicity to this case.
- Fax or email the Special Reporter on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to take action.
- Ask ‘civil society’ groups such as Centre for Policy Alternatives what they are doing about the case.
I sincerely pray and hope that Sri Lanka’s efforts to save Rizana bear fruits when the deputy foreign minister meets the victim’s father.
The world community can do lot of things to help save the life of this girl. There are many petitions being filed. You can find some petitions at
Please take a moment to sign these petitions in order to help her to get a pardon.
May the world unite to save this innocent girls life.
The Plight of Rizana in the News
Sri Lanka ‘s Deputy Foreign Minister Hussain Bhaila will fly to Saudi Arabia this week in a bid to save a Sri Lankan teenage girl who was sentenced to death, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.
JEDDAH, 9 July 2007 — Time is clearly running out to file an appeal in the case of Rizana Nazik, the 19-year-old Sri Lankan maid who — without legal representation — was found guilty by a Saudi court for the strangulation death of a four-month-old Saudi boy in May 2005.
RIYADH , 7 July 2007 — the father of a Sri Lankan maid facing the death penalty in the Kingdom has appealed to the victim’s father for clemency in a sensational case that has made headlines in the island’s newspapers.