UPDATE: Saudi Arabia/Sri Lanka: Death sentence on Rizana Nafeek confirmed


The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) draws your attention to the appeal made in 2007 into the case of Rizana Nafeek, who went to Saudi Arabia as a maid when she was 17 years old and who was sentenced to death by a Saudi court on the allegation that she had killed an infant of her employer. However, she completely denied the charges and explained that the death occurred as an accident by suffocation while she was bottle feeding the child. As a result of intervention by human rights organisations an appeal was filed on her behalf and the death sentence was set aside.

A supreme body in Saudi referred the case back to the original court for reinvestigation. The court called for the person who took down her alleged confession. It was found that he was not a competent interpreter that carried out the translation and that it was someone who was, in fact, a sheep herder. The court issued summons for the person to be brought to the court for examination. It was then found that the person concerned was no longer in the country. Thereafter, the case was postponed for several years as the witness could not be located.

The Sri Lankan Embassy in Saudi Arabia has made statements from time to time stated that the embassy was closely following the case and was providing support to the young girl who was in prison. However, later it was almost impossible to get anyone to answer questions about the case from the Sri Lankan Embassy. Just yesterday, when the Embassy was contacted by an international press agency an Embassy spokesman stated that the case was still pending for consideration of pardon by the family.

However, on the same day the Arab News announced that the court in Dawi Dami has confirmed the death sentence. The report by Arab News did not give any further details.

The AHRC wrote to the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently intervene with the Saudi authorities for gaining pardon for the maid.

We once again urge you to intervene urgently and write to His Royal Highness, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. For previous references to this case, please see: STM-003-2009STM-258-2008UA-207-2007UP-097-2007UP-093-2007PL-023-2007UG-004-2007.


The death sentence has been confirmed in the case of Rizana Nafeek. She was charged with strangling the 4-month-old child of the family for whom she worked as a housemaid. She was legally allowed only 30 days from the date of the court order to make her appeal. An appeal was made on her behalf by the intervention of human rights groups who paid for the lawyers and her death sentence was set aside pending appeal.

Rizana Nafeek 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 Rizana Nafeek, 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.

She went to work at the house of Mr. Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al 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. Rizana Nafeek 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 Rizana Nafeek 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.

The said murder allegedly took place in February 2005 when Rizana Nafeek was only 17 years old. Sources said she had modified her age on her passport so that she could enter Saudi Arabia to work. Accordingly, she was still considered a minor by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child.

Please write to His Royal Highness King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia seeking a pardon on behalf of Rizana Nafeek.


SAMPLE LETTER 1 (to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia):

Your Royal Highness,

SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Young girl under death sentence needs clemency

This is to plead for clemency for the life of Rizana Nafeek who death sentence has now been confirmed by the courts.

I plead with you to grant clemency to Nafeek Rizana, a young migrant worker who was 17 years old when charged with alleged infanticide and sentenced to death by the High Court in Dawi Dami.

I trust that Your Excellency will understands that as both a migrant worker and a minor, Rizana would have been at best ill-prepared for trial, lacking both legal capability and necessary funds. Therefore, we desperately plead for Your Excellency to have mercy on Rizana and pardon her from the impending death penalty.

Your Royal Highness has been quoted about human rights by a website "We regard human rights as a gift to mankind from the Creator, and not one gratuitously granted by one human being to another. Such human rights exist in the roots of every human civilization and are not a monopoly of one culture."

As a believer in Your Excellency’s goodness and the compassionate nature of Islam, I sincerely hope that Your Excellency will demonstrate mercy toward young Rizana and grant her clemency.

Yours sincerely,



1. King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques
Royal Court, Riyadh
Fax: +966 1 403 1185 / +966 1 403 3614

2. His Excellency
Minister of Interior
PO Box 2933
Riyadh 11134
Fax: + 966 1 403 1185


SAMPLE LETTER 2 (to The Minister of Interior):

Dear __________,

SAUDI ARABIA/SRI LANKA: Young girl under death sentence needs clemency

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding a young Sri Lankan migrant worker, Nafeek Rizana, who was sentenced to the death in Saudi Arabia for allegedly committing infanticide. I am aware that at the time of the said crime, Rizana was only 17 years old. The deadline for her appeal is imminent, 30 June 2007, but she cannot afford legal aid and the Sri Lanka government has yet to provide necessary legal and financial assistance.

I am informed that Nafeek Rizana of Mutter, was charged with strangling the 4-month-old child of the family for whom she worked as a housemaid. At the time of the alleged crime, she was 17 years old, only a minor, according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nevertheless, she has been sentenced to a beheading by the Daw Admi High Courts in Saudi Arabia on 30 May 2007. She was legally allowed only 30 days from the court decision date to appeal her case however it is reported that she is unable to appeal to the court due to lack of fund.

I am learned that the Sri Lankan Embassy has pointed out that she once plead guilty; however, in a latter statement she said that the employer had harassed her to make a confession and therefore, her forced confession may not be valid. Moreover, it was apparently the employer who had demanded that she receive the death sentence. Given these circumstances, there seems to be reasonable grounds for appeal. Even though the Sri Lankan Embassy has made an appeal to the Sri Lankan Foreign Employment Bureau for funding the appellate case, the funding has not come and the appeal deadline fast approaches. I believe it is the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government to come to the aid of its citizens, especially when they are abroad and thereby disadvantaged.

Most emphatically, I plead with you to hastily request the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia to pardon the death sentence of Nafeek Rizana, especially given that she committed the alleged crime when she was only a child. As you well know, the death penalty cannot be reconciled with today’s international human rights standards. The statement also calls for a “moratorium” on the use of the death penalty.

I urge you to intervene in a swift and sincere manner on the behalf of young Rizana. Surely, she would not have received such a harsh and inhuman sentence if she were tried in her country. I also urge you to directly contact to King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia and plead to exercise mercy and grant clemency to Nafeek Rizana.

Yours sincerely,

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

Posted on 2010-10-26