Education International
Education International

Saudi Arabia: Rizana Nafeek, 19 year old Sri Lankan faces beheading

published 9 August 2007 updated 9 August 2007

EI supports the global call to stop the execution of a Sri-Lankan teenage girl who has been sentenced to death by beheading in Saudi Arabia.

Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan domestic worker trafficked into Saudi Arabia, was sentenced to death on 16 June 2007 for the alleged murder of an infant in her care. She was arrested in May 2005, had no access to lawyers either during interrogation or at her trial and was believed to have confessed to the murder during police questioning in a language she did not understand by signing a paper written in a language she could not read. She has since retracted her confession, and an appeal has been lodged, funded by the Asian Human Rights Commission.

The appeal to all EI member organisations and partners was launched by the All Ceylon Union of Teachers (ACUT) during the 5th World Congress. EI strongly supports the appeal and urges all members and partners to write to their government, to the Saudi government, and to the Sri Lankan government to urge that Rizana Nafik be granted a pardon and returned safely to Sri Lanka.

EI has written to the King Abdullah Bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia requesting a stay of execution (see below) and to the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions for his support in the matter.

Below is the eloquent appeal by the ACUT.


Save Rizana and Let there be no more Rizanas

Dear Colleagues,

While we were deliberating in comfort on the rights of women and children at the EI 5th World Congress in Berlin, a confused teenager was huddling in a corner of a prison cell in Saudi Arabia, sleepy, yet scared to close her eyes because of the frightening nightmares, maybe praying to her almighty God, but utterly helpless before man. Her name is Rizana Nafeek, a frail looking teenager of 19 years, waiting for her encounter with an executioner.

She was born to a poor Muslim family in the tsunami-devastated East Coast of Sri Lanka. She is the eldest of a family of 4 children. Her father supported the impoverished family by cutting wood from the nearby forest. With terrorist attacks on those who venture into the forest unless you can meet their demands, their family became desperate to make ends meet.

It is at this stage that a human trafficker appeared as a saviour of the family. The birth certificate was falsified increasing her age so as to enable her to work as a housemaid in Saudi Arabia, and she was sent there.

On arrival she had to serve a family of 10 children from 4.00am until midnight. She also had to bottle feed a 4-month old baby, although she had absolutely no training in babysitting.

On a fateful day in February 2005, while feeding, the baby choked on the milk and died. A very tragic accident indeed. But the parents transferred their own negligence and guilt to the maid and handed this girl, who was still a juvenile of 17 years, over to the police, accusing her of strangulating their baby.

She was interrogated in a language she did not understand. She signed a paper written in a language she could not read. That piece of paper was the confession police wanted from her, admitting guilt for the crime of infanticide she did not commit.

Later in courts, when she was tried sans legal help, through the interpreter provided by the Sri Lankan embassy, she haltingly explained how this most unfortunate accident occurred. Yet, she was convicted of murder and is now awaiting execution. An appeal has been lodged and its outcome is pending.

We are frantically trying to save the life of this poor teenager. There have been numerous petitions online signed by concerned Sri Lankans and other citizens all over the world. The Sri Lankan government is trying hard to obtain a pardon for her, through the limited avenues that the Saudi system of justice allows for such humanitarian measures.

Her plight is a reflection of the hazardous situation of hundreds of thousands of other poor women in Asia, especially those of Indonesia and the SAARC region, who are trafficked by giving hopes of a rosy future, to conditions akin to slavery in some Middle-Eastern countries.

There is another very important aspect to this whole process that we as trade unionists should be concerned about. Sending women abroad has become an easy source of earning foreign exchange for labour exporting governments, which have abdicated their responsibility to generate decent employment opportunities for citizens in their own countries.

Dear colleagues, the social costs of this whole process far outweighs whatever its economic gains are. We as teachers have over and over again seen the deterioration in family relationships and their effect on children, caused by the separation of mothers from children, and husbands from their wives. Education of children is disrupted, children going astray and even taking to drugs, violence and the sexual abuse of children even at the hands of their own alcohol/drug addicted fathers in whose care they are left behind, form the very high social cost our societies have to pay. These are the very same issues which EI and EI affiliates seek to eradicate.

But the urgent issue today, dear colleagues, is to implore EI and all the EI affiliates:

1. To call upon the Saudi Arabian government to stay the execution of the Sri Lankan housemaid Rizana Nafeek; 2. To pressure the Government of Sri Lanka to address this urgent situation in all ways within its power, and further, to investigate the trafficking of people, especially young women and girls, abroad.

We sincerely hope that appropriate action will be taken by EI on this regard and further, that EI would take steps to forward this appeal as quickly as possible to all the EI affiliates, as well as give adequate publicity through its website, so that the life of Rizana could be saved and that there may not be any future Rizanas.

Thanking you,

Angela Wijesinghe General Secretary All Ceylon Union of Teachers (ACUT) Sri Lanka


The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques Office of His Majesty the King King Abdullah Bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud Royal Court, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Fax: (via Ministry of the Interior) +966 1 403 1185

Brussels, 8 August 2007

Your Majesty,

I write on behalf of Education International, the global federation of teachers and education workers to appeal for the life of Rizana Nafeek, sentenced to death by DAW Admi High Courts beheading for the crime of allegedly committing infanticide.

Education International is deeply concerned that Rizana Nafeek is only 19 years old, that she comes from a background of extreme poverty, that she lacks education and has no resources, family or support in the Kingdom. She was brought into the Kingdom with the promise of a better future but instead found herself in a hazardous situation from which she could not escape. Riana Nafeek does not have the means therefore to defend herself in the courts, and, we understand, she had no legal representation prior to being sentenced to death.

Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, ratified by Saudi Arabia on 26 January 1996, as a 17-year old at the time she is alleged to have committed the crime of infanticide, she is considered a minor.

The 30 million members of Education International appeal to you to consider her case with compassion, and implore you to spare her life, and return her to her own country in the same manner that you have graciously granted similar pardons in the past.

Yours sincerely,

Fred van Leeuwen, General Secretary

Cc: His Royal Highness Prince Naif bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud - Ministry of the Interior, P.O. Box 2933, Airport Road, Riyadh 11134, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Fax: +966 1 403 1185 His Royal Highness Prince Saud al-Faisal bin 'Abdul 'Aziz Al-Saud, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nasseriya Street, Riyadh 11124, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - Fax: +966 1 403 0645 Mr Turki bin Khaled Al-Sudairy, President, Human Rights Commission, PO Box 58889, Riyadh 11515, King Fahad Road, Building No.373, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - Fax: +966 1 4612061 Ambassade du Royaume d'Arabie Saoudite, Avenue F.D. Roosevelt 45, 1050 Bruxelles - Fax: 02.647.24.92