Colombo (AsiaNews) - Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek was executed in Saudi Arabia today (6 am GMT), Sri Lanka's External Affairs Ministry reported. The execution took place in Damami, a town about 400 kilometres west of Riyadh. The young Muslim woman was on death row for allegedly killing an infant.
Last Saturday, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa appealed to the Saudi king for a delay to allow a Sri Lanka delegation to meet the baby's family to work out a deal.
Fr George Sigamoney, head of Caritas Sri Lanka, told AsiaNews that he was "deeply upset" over Rizana's execution. Since her arrest, he had fought for her release.
"Unfortunately, what we expected to happen happened," he said. "As a representative of the Church and of Caritas I want to express my sorrow and solidarity to Rizana's family. I pray for them that they may have the courage needed to face their pain and get through this moment."
"I want to remember Rizana in another way," Fr George said. "As a nation, we must reflect and weep for the loss of this young life." However, "I believe the time has come for government authorities to deal in a serious manner with the predicament of migrant workers seeking employment in the Middle East."
When news came of Rizana's execution, the Sri Lankan parliament observed a minute of silence as a show of respect. Her parents, sisters and brothers went to their mosque to pray.
Rizana's mother, Fareena, asked Sri Lankan authorities to repatriate her daughter's body for burial.
Her father Sultant is devastated not only because of her death but also because he is the one who sent her overseas, still underage, in order to help the family, neighbours said.
"There is no doubt that the charge of murder against Rizana is wrong," the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said in a statement issued today. "The laws in Saudi Arabia falls short of universally accepted norms concerning investigation of crimes, most importantly in this case the failure to conduct of an autopsy upon the body of the deceased person, alleged to have been murdered by Rizana. None of the fair trial guarantees were observed when Rizana was tried in the Saudi court."
"The Government of Sri Lanka or the office of the President did nothing to save Rizana's life, despite calls for assistance from Rizana's family and from the global civil society." In fact, "President Rajapaksha's government refused to pay at least the lawyers' fee for filing the appeal. [. . .] So long as there is a government that does not show any care for the rights of its people, similar tragedies will be repeated in Sri Lanka."
Born into a very poor family in Mutur village (Trincomalee District in the Eastern Province), Rizana had moved to Saudi Arabia in 2005 when she was only 17, on a false passport, to work as a domestic helper.
When her employer's child died, she was accused of murder and sentenced to death in 2007 after a phony trial based on a confession written in Arabic she was forced to sign, even though she did not know that language.