11/09/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA - SAUDI ARABIA

Sri Lankan Muslim teenager sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia. Appeal of Catholics

by Melani Manel Perera
Fr. George Sigamony, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, calls on all Catholics to pray after the verdict that decrees the death sentence for Rizana, just 17 years old, in prison on false charges of murder. The Asian Human Rights Commission: "Do not let Rizana Nafeek become a victim of the infamous practice of Saudi Arabia to sentence juvenile offenders to death."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - It's official: the young girl Rizana Nafeek only 17 years of age, in prison since 2005 on false charges of murder, has been sentenced to death. Fr. George Sigamony, national director of Caritas Sri Lanka, speaks out on his case, and together with AsiaNews launches and appeal for her, and for all migrant workers whose situation has become unsustainable, "Now that, unfortunately, the verdict has been issued, the only thing we can do is continue to pray for her and her situation". The girl's death sentence was upheld on appeal in late October. Rizana, a minor at the time, was sent to Saudi Arabia - on a false passport - to work as a care giver. When the child of her employer died while she was bottle feeding, she was accused of murder and sentenced to death in a sham trial based on a signed confession, the content of which she did not know, because it was written in another language. After obtaining legal protection and a translator, she retracted the confession, explaining that the tragic death was simply an accident. But nothing has helped.

Fr. Sigamony has been campaigning for Rizana’s release since 2007. He tells AsiaNews: "We have carried out many campaigns in Sri Lanka, and collected thousands of signatures that we sent to the competent authorities in Saudi Arabia. In addition, we have attracted international attention, thanks to the Caritas network, but without success. " The director of Caritas also underlines another aspect of the situation: "The culprit who sent Rizana to Saudi Arabia illegally [the girl was underage when she started to work] is still alive, free, working and enjoying all his rights : is also to blame. We wish to express our opposition, and urge the Government to implement a policy that protects migrant workers".

Meanwhile, the Asian Human Rights Commission (Ahcr) has released a statement: "Do not let Rizana Nafeek become a victim of the infamous practice of Saudi Arabia to sentence juvenile offenders to death." It states that there is need for constant pressure to be brought to bear on the highest authorities, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, and the interior minister, to grant a pardon, and ask forgiveness to the family of the child.

According to the Ahcr, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest rates of executions in the world. According to Amnesty International statistics on death sentences, at least 69 were executed in Saudi Arabia in 2009, 102 in 2008. In late 2009, Amnesty International denounced the presence of at least 141 people on death row in Saudi Arabia, including 104 foreign nationals. Migrant workers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East are the main victims.

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