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Sri Lanka in last-ditch bid to save Rizana Nafeek

Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Jammaz, left, talks to Sri Lankan Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem in Colombo on Thursday. (AN Photo)

Sri Lanka in last-ditch bid to save Rizana Nafeek

January 5, 2013  11:34 am

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The Sri Lankan government has made a last-ditch attempt to save a housemaid from the gallows during a discussion held between the island nation’s justice minister and the Saudi ambassador in Colombo on Thursday.

This was confirmed by the former Sri Lankan consul general in Jeddah, Masihudeen Inamullah, who took part in the discussions. Inamullah, who is in Colombo, spoke to Arab News by telephone yesterday.

Inamullah confirmed that the Sri Lankan Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem told the Saudi Ambassador in Colombo Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman Al-Jammaz of his government’s intention to lodge an appeal with the parents of the deceased child to pardon the convicted Rizana Nafeek on humanitarian grounds.

On June 16, 2007, Nafeek was sentenced to death by a three-member bench at the Dawadmi High Court for killing the baby she was entrusted to look after in the absence of her Saudi employers at home. The accused maintained that the newborn choked during bottle-feeding, and that she tried to seek help.

In August last year, the Royal Court forwarded the case of Nafeek for an amicable settlement with the Saudi parents of the child. Nafeek’s case is being handled by the Reconciliation Committee (RC) of the Riyadh governorate, whose members are currently negotiating with the parents of the deceased child.

The RC members usually approach the plaintiff to negotiate a pardon for the accused. Such negotiations are either settled with the payment of blood money or a graceful pardon from the aggrieved party.

Legal experts in the Kingdom say Nafeek can only be saved if pardoned by the victim’s family. The pardon can be offered with or without a request for blood money.

During the talks, Hakeem said that the whole country would be thankful if the poor housemaid is pardoned by the parents of the deceased child. He said that the maid was under 18 at the time of the incident and she had not come here as a baby-sitter.

In her statement to the court, Nafeek had claimed that at the time of her arrival in Saudi Arabia, she was 17 years old and that a recruitment agent had falsified her documents and obtained her passport by over-stating her true age by six years.

During the talks on Thursday, Hakeem said that the Colombo High Court recently sentenced the two agents, who allegedly faked the original travel documents of Nafeek, to two-year imprisonment in Colombo. The judge also asked the two accused to pay Rs. 120,000 (about SR 3,500) each to the parents of Nafeek as a penalty for their offense. Hakeem added that these developments were not communicated properly to the concerned parties.

Nafeek arrived in Riyadh on May 4, 2005 to work as a housemaid for Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi and was transferred to work in his family’s household in Dawadmi, about 380 km west of Riyadh.

The incident in which the infant died, occurred around 12.30 p.m. on May 22, 2005, while Nafeek was bottle-feeding the infant.

Responding to a question posed by the justice minister, whether the request of the Sri Lankan president and the various documents submitted could be used to obtain the release of Nafeek, the Saudi ambassador said that in accordance with the royal directives, conciliatory efforts are being made currently with the aggrieved parents to rescue Nafeek.

According to Saudi laws, in such cases, clemency can only be given by the aggrieved party.

However, Al-Jammaz said that he would make the best use of the minister’s appeal to convince the parents to pardon the housemaid. The Saudi ambassador also said that he was aware that the president of Sri Lanka and the government had striven hard to obtain a pardon for Nafeek, and stressed that, on the instructions of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah, the then Riyadh Governor Prince Salman, now the crown prince, initiated discussions with the relatives of the child. The ambassador promised to intervene personally in this regard.

The two parties also discussed the possibility of having a bilateral agreement to exchange prisoners.

Two years ago, Hakeem, a senior parliamentarian and leader of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), handed a letter, addressed to Al-Otaibi and his family, to the Saudi Ambassador in Colombo, pleading for clemency for Nafeek on behalf of the Muslim community, which forms eight percent of the island’s 20 million population. While respecting the laws of the host country, Hakeem said, “We sincerely hope and trust that the parents will graciously offer a pardon for the girl who came to the Kingdom in search of greener pastures to help her poverty-stricken family.”

Nafeek’s father is a woodcutter who works in Muttur, a village in Trincomalee district, 300 km away from Colombo.

Last week, Sri Lankan External Affairs Minister G. Luxman Peiris submitted an appeal for clemency to Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal through the Saudi mission in Colombo. The appeal specifically sought a personal intervention from the members of the royal family to save Nafeek from the gallows. - Arab News


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