Amnesty International has condemned Saudia Arabia's decision to execute a 19-year-old Sri Lankan maid accused of murdering a baby in her care - despite the fact she was 17 at the time of the alleged offence and has denied confessing to the crime.
Rizana Nafeek was arrested in May 2005 in Jeddah and was "believed to have confessed to the murder during police questioning". The Saudi authorites claim she "admitted strangling the four-month-old boy while feeding him with a bottle", the Telegraph reports, although she has since retracted the confession. She insists "the child had begun to choke before losing consciousness in spite of her desperate efforts to clear his airway".
The Sri Lankan government has reportedly filed an appeal on Nafeek's behalf, the deadline for which expires today. Sri Lanka's deputy foreign minister Hussein Bhaila is hoping to head a delegation, including Nafeek's parents and other ministry officials, to Saudi Arabia today - but all were still awaiting visas last night. Unless the authorities amend the sentence or the victim's parents decide on clemency, Nafeek will be publicly beheaded.
Amnesty International notes: "Saudi Arabia is a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which expressly prohibits the execution of offenders for crimes committed when they were under 18 years old."
Amnesty International's UK director Kate Allen said: "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."
Suhaila Hammad of Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights countered that an increasing number of crimes could be attributed to the sheer number of foreign workers in the country, and the number of executions has risen accordingly. She added that prisoners "were treated humanely and that beheadings deterred crime".
She concluded: "Should we just think of and preserve the rights of the murderer and not think of the rights of others?"
In 2005, Saudi Arabia carried out 191 executions, the Telegraph notes. The figure last year dropped to 38, but in 2007, "102 have already taken place just over half way through the year". ®
Amnesty International summarises the Saudi legal process thus:
Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for a wide range of offences. Court proceedings fall far short of international standards for fair trial, and take place behind closed doors.
Defendants normally do not have formal representation by a lawyer, and in many cases are not informed of the progress of legal proceedings against them. They may be convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress, torture or deception.