Saudi Arabia beheaded a young Sri Lankan housemaid on Wednesday after rejecting appeals by her home country against her death sentence for the killing of an infant left in her care in 2005, Saudi and Sri Lankan authorities said.
The Saudi Interior Ministry said in a statement run by the official SPA news agency that Rizana Nafeek was executed in the town of Dawadmy, near the capital Riyadh, on Wednesday morning.
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Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said Nafeek was sentenced to death in 2007 after her Saudi employer accused her of killing his infant daughter while she was bottle-feeding. The Saudi Interior Ministry statement said the infant was strangled after a dispute between the maid and the baby's mother.
The Colombo government appealed against the death penalty but the Saudi Supreme Court upheld it in 2010.
"President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a personal appeal on two occasions immediately after the confirmation of the death sentence, and a few days ago to stop the execution and grant a pardon to Miss Rizana Nafeek," the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry said in a statement sent by email.
"President Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid," it said.
Amnesty International said the passport Nafeek used to enter Saudi Arabia in May 2005 stated she was born in February 1982, but her birth certificate states she was born six year later, which would have made her 17 at the time of the infant's death.
Saudi women (Archive photo: Reuters)
Saudi households are highly dependent on housemaids from African and South Asian countries. There have been reported cases of domestic abuse in which families mistreat their maids, who have then attacked the children of their employers.
Human Rights Watch condemned the execution.
"Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children," said Nisha Varia, senior women's rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.
"In executing Rizana Nafeek, Saudi authorities demonstrated callous disregard for basic humanity as well as Saudi Arabia's international legal obligations."
Saudi Arabia, a US ally, is an absolute monarchy that follows the strict Wahhabi school of Islam and applies sharia (Islamic law). Judges base decisions on their own interpretation of sharia rather than on a written legal code or on precedent.
Amnesty International, in a statement before the execution, said that it appeared Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or at her trial in 2007.
"It appears that she was herself a child at the time and there are real concerns about the fairness of her trial," Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Program Director, said the day before the execution.