The Rizana Nafeek: SAGA
Way back in 2007, a 17-year-old, impoverished girl called Rizana
Nafeek from Muttur boarded a plane bound for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia,
dreaming of a bright future for her parents, sisters and herself. Just
seven years later, that dream ended in a river of blood as a
blood-drenched sword wielded by a Saudi executioner snuffed out her
life. All appeals to Saudi authorities for clemency fell on deaf ears
and she was dragged away to a ghastly death.
The barbaric beheading of a young woman for a crime she had allegedly
committed as a minor has sparked outrage in Sri Lanka and around the
world. Rizana, an innocent and fragile young woman who spent seven years
in a Saudi jail, is likely to become an icon for a global call for
labour reforms applicable to domestic workers, ending the virtual
slavery of women and eliminating barbaric laws which permit such
Young Rizana will not have died in vain if Sri Lanka and other
members of the international community can seize the moment to create
greater awareness on the need for labour reforms especially in Middle
That is the greatest tribute we can pay to a daughter of Sri Lankan
soil who had to pay the ultimate price for no fault of her own.
‘Quranic Laws flouted’
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL) has expressed its condolence
to Rizana Nafeek’s family, Secretary of MCSL S. A. Asker Khan said.
He said that at the time she entered employment she was under-age
unfit to be employed with the task of taking care of a four-month-old
We find it shocking that any parent would have entrusted his child to
the care of another child. The unfortunate incident that led to the
death of the infant is, in our view, a direct result of the negligence
of the parents who entrusted their infant to the care of Rizana, while
she was employed in cooking and cleaning.
We express our deep disappointment and disbelief that the parents of
the infant whose death Rizana was held responsible for, did not avail
the Quranic provisions of mercy and forgiving overlooking the negligence
if any of this poor and youthful worker and also the Saudi Arabian
Government for maintaining a regime with regard to migrant labour that
does not meet any standards set out in Islamic Shariah law and
international laws. The Holy Quran furthermore, urges in Verse 15:85 to
overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.
Thus we see the implementation of the death penalty as going against
the spirit and the letter of Islamic law. In fact the execution also
brings to light another instance of the selective implementation of
Saudi laws, for it is curious how an unmarried young female
unaccompanied by a male, was permitted to enter, live and work in a
country that insists on women entering Saudi Arabia to be accompanied by
a male within the prohibited degree of marriage.
‘Fogotten by even the community’
The school Rizana attentded
Rizana left the country as a housemaid with many hopes to Saudi
Arabia to improve the standard of living of her family. Rizana’s father
was looking after his four children including Rizana, selling firewood
collected from nearby jungles.
”Now people are shedding crocodile tears, but they failed to give a
helping hand to Rizana’s family to overcome their poverty knowing full
well, they were eking out a living - “She was accused of killing the
child back in 2005, but up until now not a single Muslim organisation
did anything to alleviate their poverty”, a source requesting anonymity
said. “Isn’t this an indictment on the Muslim community?”, he queried.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said that when a neighbour is suffering
from poverty, help him without considering his race or cast or religion.
It is the bounden duty of Muslims to help. Most of the business tycoons
in the Muslim community forget this concept and go about exhibiting
their wealth, without extending a helping hand to this poverty stricken
family”, another source said.
Islam requires that a mother should “breast feed” the child for two
years. In this case, the mother had failed in her duty to treat feed her
baby according to the Holy Quran. The mother of the deceased child also
failed to fulfil her duty as a mother.
Chronology of events leading to Rizana’s execution
Excerpts of a compilation by the Asian Human Rights Commission for
Asian Tribune posted immediately before Rizana’s execution on January 9.
Rizana Nafeek, holder of Sri Lanka Passport No. N. 0331835 arrived in
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on 01 April 2005, to work as a housemaid
in the household, of her sponsor, Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al Otaibi, whose
wife had a new-born baby boy.A few days after her arrival in Riyadh,
roughly by 15th May 2005, Rizana Nafeek had been transferred by her
sponsor to work in his family household in Dawadami, about 390 km west
Rizana Nafeek had been arrested by the Dawadami Police on the same
day (25 May 2005), and it was reported that she had allegedly confessed
to killing the child.Rizana had repeated her confession in open court.
However, at the court hearing on February 3, 2007, Rizana retracted her
confession and informed the Court that her original confession admitting
to the killing of the child had been obtained by the Police under
duress.In her statement to Court, Rizana Nafeek had claimed that at the
time of her arrival in Saudi Arabia, she was only 17 years and a
recruitment agent had falsified her documents, seizing her passport by
over-stating her true age by 6 years.
Initially a three-member panel of judges from the Dawadami High Court
headed by Chief Justice Abdullah Al-Rosaimi found Rizana Nafeek guilty
of murdering the four-month-old son of Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi and
sentenced her to death on June 16, 2007.
The Court informed Rizana Nafeek that she could file an appeal
against her death sentence, which she did.
An appeal against the beheading of the accused was filed on behalf of
Rizana by Khateb Al-Shammary, a Riyadh-based law firm, on July 15,
2007.In its submissions during the appeal, Khateb Al-Shammary cited
several reasons why the maid should not be punished for her alleged
actions. Lawyer Khateb Al-Shammary claimed that the maid was underage at
the time of the incident and pointed out that Rizana was brought into
the Kingdom as a housemaid, not as a nanny. Furthermore, the petition
said that there was no reason for Rizana to harbour any vengeance
against the parents of the child since she had been working for the
household for only for a few days.
In the Sri Lankan side there were a few attempts to meet Naif Jiziyan
Khalaf Al-Otaibi the father of the four-month-old baby, but he refused
to meet any Sri Lankan even up to now.
The Dawdami High Court sentence was subsequently upheld by the Court
of Cassation and sent for ratification by the Supreme Judicial Council.
However, the Council sent it back to the lower court for further
What awaits next is left to be seen?
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional
non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia,
documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform
to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong
Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
Saudi philanthropist to give house
The deceased Rizana’s family is to receive a house, according to
Child Development and Women’s Affairs Deputy Minister M.L.A.M.
The Deputy Minister said that a Saudi Arabian philanthropist has
volunteered to build a house with all facilities for Rizana’s family.
The poverty-stricken family still lives in a house that is less than
the standard of a wattle and daubed house in Muttur Shafi Nagar, in
Trincomalee. They are undergoing untold hardship due to the head of the
household, Rizana’s father taking ill and is still in hospital.
He was a firewood cutter earning a meagre income and unable to make
ends meet. It was to alleviate this poverty that Rizana had thought of
going to Saudi Arabia at such a young age and faking her age so that the
agent will send her to Saudi. But fate decreed otherwise.
The Saudi Arabian philanthropist who understood the plight of
Rizana’s family volunteered to support this worthy cause.
Rizana left Sri Lanka at the age of 17 to serve as a housemaid in
Saudi Arabia to support her family. But her dreams were shattered when
the infant under her care died allegedly due to choking when the child
The Saudi well-wisher agreed to build a house four months before the
execution of Rizana, Deputy Minister Hisbullah said. The Muslim
community in Sri Lanka is still to rise to the occasion.
Hearing the message of the execution of Rizana Nafeek in Saudi
Arabia, a large number of people from nearby areas visited Rizana’s
parents in Shafi Nagar, Muttur to mourn the death.
Rizana’s parents are still in shock after hearing the message from
Saudi Arabia. A person who visited Shafi Nagar said the entire area
looks like a funeral house. “Even though neighbours try to console the
parents their emotions are yet to abate. They feel that they have lost
everything in life, another neighbour said.
A few days before Rizana’s father was hospitalised and underwent
treatment, while he was receiving treatment. He was confident of his
daughter’s return, but now he cannot come to terms that his eldest
daughter is no more.
Diverse humanitarian organisations including Amnesty International
tirelessly attempted to prevent Rizana’s execution, but nothing came of
The Saudi Arabian Government was waiting until the parents of the
child gave a pardon to Rizana. But that attempt was abortive because
without the consent of the parents, the King can’t give pardon to a
person who is prosecuted.
A mother’s love...
Rizana’s mother had refused any assistance from outsiders who
approached Rizana’s family while Rizana was in death row. Her mother had
said that all she wanted was her daughter and nothing could replace
that. Almuslimath, a well-known institution in Sri Lanka which was in
touch with Rizana’s parents had approached to help Rizana’s family.
Almuslimath had asked Rizana’s parents several times whether to help
them build a house or at least a toilet. But her mother vehemently
refused saying “While my daughter is in prison how can we look for
This is the love a mother had for her daughter!
What other countries have to say....
In a statement Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, Alistair
Burt said: “I condemn the execution of Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia
yesterday, despite the many appeals for her sentence to be commuted.”
“The UK opposes all use of the death penalty as a matter of
principle, whatever the crime committed. “We also find the practice of
beheading to be particularly cruel and inhuman. We continue to raise our
concerns about human rights with the Saudi authorities, including its
frequent use of the death penalty”.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and
Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission Catherine Ashton
issuing a statement said she is deeply dismayed by the execution of Ms.
“I am deeply dismayed by the information that Sri Lankan national Ms.
Rizana Nafeek was executed today in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the EU
“The EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under
all circumstances,” she added.
France condemns the beheading on January 9 in Saudi Arabia of Rizana
Nafeek. France is campaigning for the universal abolition of the death
As Mr. Laurent Fabius, Minister of Foreign Affairs, reaffirmed, It
urges Saudi Arabia to put an end to the executions and to establish a
Organisation of Professional Associations of Sri Lanka in a statement
said, “The barbaric and inhuman punishment given to young Rizana Nafeek
has become a shock not only to them, but all decent people in the
Unreservedly condemning the cruel and inhuman punishment meted out to
Rizana OPA called upon the government to immediately halt the migration
of its citizens to countries that practise barbaric laws and slavery.“We
have noted hundreds of our citizens have been subjected to cruel,
inhuman and degrading treatment at the hands of psychopathic employers,”
the release stated adding, “It is the duty and the responsibility of our
government to provide financial support for those suffering from poverty
to discourage them from seeking employment in such countries.”
- Source: AHRC