By Damien McElroy
A sword-wielding executioner carried out the death sentence on Rizana Nafeek in the town of Dawadmy, near Riyadh, just hours after the country’s Interior Ministry ratified the court verdict against her.
Nafeek was given the death sentence in 2007 for smothering the infant while working as the child’s nanny. She had been accused of killing the 4-month-old boy two years earlier following an argument with his mother.
Nafeek however, who was aged only 17 at the time of the alleged offense, insisted that the child had choked to death on milk during a bottle feed.
The Sri Lankan government appealed against the death penalty, but the Saudi Supreme Court upheld it in 2010. Despite an international campaign for clemency, that verdict was finally ratified by the country’s Interior Ministry yesterday.
The announcement the execution had taken place shocked Nafeek’s supporters who had expected the government of Sri Lanka to enter into negotiations to pay blood money for clemency.
A global campaign to save Nafeek had been led by a British charity Safe World for Women, founded by an English activist, Chris Crowstaff. Her supporters claimed her execution would be a breach of child rights.
“Saudi Arabia knew Rizana Nafeek was a child [but] they beheaded her anyway,” said Joanne Michele, a researcher with the group. “Rizana Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or during her first trial.”
Nafeek was found guilty of smothering the infant after signing a confession written in Arabic that she did not understand and later retracted.
Mahinda Rajapakse, the Sri Lankan president, condemned the swift execution of Nafeek as the country’s parliament in Colombo observed a minute’s silence in her memory.
The government was still assembling the members of a diplomatic delegation to Riyadh to plead her case when the sentence was carried out.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a personal appeal on two occasions immediately after the confirmation of the death sentence, and a few days ago to stop the execution and grant a pardon to Miss Rizana Nafeek,” the Sri Lankan government said.
Human Rights Watch was among the groups to campaign against the beheading of Nafeek because she was 17 at the time of the killing.
“In executing Rizana Nafeek, Saudi authorities demonstrated callous disregard for basic humanity as well as Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations,” said Nisha Varia, its senior women’s-rights researcher.
But Sri Lankan activists said the country’s government shared the blame because it had not pushed Saudi Arabian authorities hard enough to save Nafeek’s life.
“All Sri Lankans should regard today as a day of shame,” the Asia Human Rights Commission said. “There is no doubt that the charge of murder against Rizana is wrong. The laws in Saudi Arabia fall short of universally accepted norms concerning investigations of crimes.”
Last year the government of Indonesia, another country that supplies tens of thousands of maids to Saudi Arabia, paid $534,000 to a Saudi family as an official payment of “blood money” in order to spare the life of an Indonesian maid.
Saudi Arabia beheaded as many as 76 people last year under its strict code of Islamic law.
Cases of abuse, torture, and imprisonment of maids and other domestic servants has led some countries including Indonesia and Philippines to introduce restrictions on recruitment of maids by Saudi Arabian agencies after a public outcry.