Saturday, 12 January 2008

Urgent Appeal for Clemency and Pardon

Sri Lankan national and domestic worker Rizana Nafeek was sentenced to death on 16 June after being accused of murdering a baby of four months while, aged 17 years, she was employed as a cleaner and for other household duties. She had only been working in the household for a few days when given the duty of feeding the infant. When attempting to bottle feed the child it choked, resulting in its death. Her working day began at 3am and continued until very late each night. Herself a child, she was tasked with looking after 10 children.

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. Rizana Nafeek has appealed against her sentence, but if her appeal is unsuccessful she could be executed within days.

She was arrested in May 2005 in Jeddah on charges of murdering an infant in her care. She had no access to lawyers either during interrogation or at her trial and was believed to have confessed to the murder during police questioning. She has since retracted her confession.

She apparently told the authorities that she was born in February 1988, but they seem to have ignored this on the basis that her passport indicated that she was born in February 1982. According to information available to Amnesty International no medical examination is believed to have been carried out to ascertain her age, nor was she given the opportunity to present her birth certificate, which reportedly shows that she was born in 1988.

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. The rate of executions in Saudi Arabia has recently increased sharply, and the authorities have executed at least 100 people so far this year, although the true figure may be much higher. Death sentences are usually carried out by beheading.

Saudi Arabia assured the Committee on the Rights of the Child (who monitor states' implementation of the CRC) in January 2006 that no children had been executed in the country since the CRC came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1997. This is a weaker commitment than is required by the CRC, which demands that no one is executed for crimes committed when they were under 18, no matter how old they are now.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals for clemency and pardon on behalf of Rizana Nafeek to -
King Abdullah Bin' Abdul Aziz Al-Saud,
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,
Office of His Majesty the King,
Royal Court,
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

to arrive as quickly as possible:
- urging the King to intervene and commute Rizana Nafeek’s death sentence;
- pointing out that the execution of juvenile offenders is expressly prohibited by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Saudi Arabia ratified in 1997.

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