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Monday, July 09, 2007

Saudi Arabia sentences tragic teen to beheading

From the Asian Human Rights Commission:
This case concerns Rizana Naffeek who is facing the death sentence in Saudi Arabia, allegedly for the strangulation of a four month old baby. Through close study of the case the Asian Human Rights Commission is satisfied that, in fact, what has taken place was the tragic death of a baby in the process of being fed by an inexperienced teenager.

Rizana Naffeek 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 Naffeek, 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 Naffeek 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 Naffeek 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.

The Arab News delivers the punchline:
Upon hearing the case, the judge urged Otaibi, the child’s father, to use his prerogative to pardon the maid, which he refused to do. Therefore, the Shariah court sentenced her to death by beheading and gave her a period of one month to lodge an appeal, which has been left up to the Sri Lankan government to file.
However, Sri Lanka has not been given access to the documents needed to file the appeal, and time runs out on July 16.

So far, Human Rights Watch has not taken notice of this case, but Amnesty International (UK) has:
Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The death penalty is always wrong but it is an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn't even have a lawyer at her trial.

'The Saudi authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime.

'Rizana's execution must be stopped and she must be allowed proper legal representation. Saudi Arabia should also freeze all further executions and stop what has become a torrent of judicial killing in recent months.'

Rizana has apparently informed the authorities that she was born in February 1988, but the Saudi authorities have reportedly ignored this on the basis that her passport indicated that she was born in 1982. According to information available to Amnesty International, no medical examination is believed to have been carried out to ascertain her age, nor was she given the opportunity to present her birth certificate, which reportedly shows that she was born in 1988.

In January 2006 Saudi Arabia assured the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that no children had been executed in the country since the children's convention came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1997. This is a weaker commitment than is required by the convention, which demands that no one is executed for crimes committed when they were under 18, no matter how old they are now.

Amnesty International is raising urgent concern over the plight of Rizana Nafeek at a time when executions in Saudi Arabia have increased rapidly. In the first six months of this year nearly 100 people in the Kingdom have already been executed, including three women. Half of these have been foreign nationals, mostly from poor countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2006 Saudi Arabia was known to have executed 39 people (though the true figure may have been higher), the seventh highest number in the world. This year the execution 'rate' is approximately five times higher than last year's, and Saudi Arabia is now likely to have one of the highest execution tolls for 2007 of any country in the world.

AHRC is organizing a letter-writing campaign to the bereaved father asking him to pardon the girl, which is enough to spare her under Shari'a law. So far it hasn't helped.

AHRC is calling on Muslim scholars to speak out. That hasn't happened. In fact, I have not yet seen any of the prominent Muslim "human rights" organizations say a word about this case.

A single phone call from the US government would probably have more effect to help the girl than anything else. There's only a week left.