Deadline for appeal expires, Family not going to Saudi
By Easwaran Rutnam
The much anticipated visit to Saudi Arabia by government officials with the parents of the soon to be beheaded Sri Lankan girl to seek clemency has been put on hold while the date to secure an appeal in Saudi courts expires today.
Deputy Foreign Minister Hussain Bhaila told the Daily Mirror the trip was put on hold as the relevant officials failed to secure a meeting with the family where the girl had worked as a maid and with other government officials in the kingdom.
"We were informed that we could not get appointments with the family and other officials. So the Saudi Embassy in Colombo did not give us the visa. For the moment the trip is on hold," the Deputy Minister said.
However, he emphasized that the legal process to appeal against the death sentence issued against Rizana Nafeek had already commenced.
The Asian Human Rights Commission had last week deposited the preliminary fees needed for the judicial appeal. However, considering the strict religious laws of the kingdom the chances of the appeal being successful has been rated as slim.
The Sri Lankan team including Deputy Minister Bhaila and the parents of Rizana were hoping to travel to Riyadh to seek clemency from the father of the baby who died while Rizana was bottle feeding him.
From Arab News
RIYADH, 14 July 2007 — A top-level Sri Lankan delegation led by Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Bhaila will arrive here tomorrow to seek clemency from the parents of an infant that died under the care of Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek.
The parents say Nafeek strangled the child to death in a home north of the capital after two weeks on the job in May 2005. Nafeek says the child choked accidentally. Without legal representation, a Shariah court in Dawadmi found the 17-year-old guilty of murder on June 16 and condemned her to execution by beheading in accordance to Islamic law.
The Lankan team comprises: Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, director general of Middle East and North African Affairs at the Lankan Ministry of Foreign affairs, Moulavi M.B.M. Zarook, representative of the Jamiyathul Ulema (Council of Islamic Theologians), Rizana’s father, Mohammed Nafeek, and mother, Razeena.
“Our aim is to make a personal appeal to the victim’s father, Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi, to exonerate the accused from the gallows,” Hussein Bhaila told Arab News yesterday.
Expressing optimism about saving Rizana’s life, the deputy minister said it would be a humanitarian appeal on behalf of Rizana’s parents and the country.
Bhaila thanked the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) for its timely intervention in lodging an appeal.
The AHRC paid an initial deposit of SR50,000 to Riyadh-based Kateb Fahad Al-Shammari, attorneys at law, to submit the appeal before July 16, the deadline given by the high court for submission of an appeal.
“It is expected that the law firm would approach the relevant courts very shortly and file the papers relating to Rizana’s appeal,” a statement from the Lankan Embassy said.
News reports say that a law firm (without naming the firm) is asking SR250,000 to represent Nafeek. Sri Lankan officials have been trying to obtain all the evidence against Nafeek (such as transcripts and other filings) but have not yet been afforded access to this documentation and have requested a one-month extension to the deadline for filing the appeal in order to give more time for the Saudi authorities to provide this evidence to the defense.
Rizana’s father, Mohammed Nafeek told Arab News from Colombo that his family is on tenterhooks thinking about the fate of his daughter.
“She went to Saudi Arabia only in search of greener pasture for a better life for her brother Rifkan, 15, and sisters Rifqa, 11, and Rizna, 10,” Nafeek said, pointing out that a sub-agent who recruits young girls from remote villages for overseas employment had successfully lured Rizana for lucrative employment in the Kingdom saying that she could build a house for her family.
Mother Razeena said: “Rizana is a timid girl, I cannot just believe that she had committed such a major crime.”
Further complicating the issue is that Rizana’s age on her birth certificate (February 1988) is different than the age on her passport (February 1982). Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child that prohibits putting to death minors (under the age of 18).
Rizana’s family claims that the date on her passport was forged in order to facilitate her passage to Saudi Arabia.
She turned 17 two months before the death of the infant, according to her Lankan birth certificate, but her working papers say she was 23 at the time of the alleged murder.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister and senior Muslim Parliamentarian Mohamed Haniffa Mohamed is hopeful that the parents will give the pardon.
M.B.M. Zubair, secretary-general of Federation of Muslim Associations in the Kandy district, told Arab News that the Sri Lankan Muslims and even the non-Muslim are concerned over Rizana’s fate in this case, which is being talked about all over Sri Lanka.
“We humbly appeal to all those concerned to pardon this girl for the sake of our religion,” Zubair, who is also an attorney-at-law, stressed.