Skip to main content
Amnesty International UK
Log in

Execution of female domestic worker in Saudi Arabia condemned

Sri Lankan national Rizana Nafeek beheaded despite dispute over age and unfair trial

Amnesty International has condemned the execution earlier today of a female Sri Lankan domestic worker in Saudi Arabia for a crime she allegedly committed while still a child.

Amnesty said the execution - carried out by beheading this morning - proves how “woefully out of step” Saudi Arabia is regarding international standards on the death penalty.

Rizana Nafeek was executed in Dawadmi, a town west of the capital Riyadh this morning. Her death sentence had been handed down by a Dawadmi court on 16 June 2007, based on allegations that she murdered an infant in her care when she herself was 17 years old. Earlier this week Amnesty and the Sri Lankan government had urged Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah - who ratified her death sentence - to show clemency in Nafeek’s case, given her young age at the time of the alleged crime as well as concerns she received an unfair trial.

The passport Nafeek used to enter Saudi Arabia in 2005 gave her year of birth as 1982, apparently making her 23 when she took up her job as a domestic worker. But her birth certificate says she was born six years later, making her 17 at the time of the infant’s death.

According to information gathered by Amnesty, she was not allowed to present her birth certificate or other evidence over her age at her original trial in 2007. While she may have been able to do so in later legal proceedings, it appears not to have swayed the decision of the judges, who in Saudi Arabia have discretion to decide the age of majority for Children's rights. It also appears that the man who translated her statement to the court may not have been able adequately to translate between Tamil and Arabic. He has since left Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or at her trial. Although she initially “confessed” to the baby’s murder during interrogation, she later retracted this, saying she had been forced to make the “confession” under duress following a physical assault. She said the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said:

“Despite a chorus of pleas for the Saudi Arabian authorities to step in and reconsider Rizana Nafeek’s death sentence, they went ahead and executed her anyway, proving once more how woefully out of step they are with their international obligations regarding the use of the death penalty.”

As a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Saudi Arabia is prohibited from imposing the death penalty on persons who were under 18 years old at the time of the alleged offence for which they were convicted. If there is a doubt as to the correct age, courts have to treat an accused as a juvenile offender unless the prosecution can prove he or she was an adult.

Before Nafeek’s execution, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa had appealed to the Saudi Arabian King to exercise clemency, and Sri Lanka’s parliament reportedly held a minute of silence today after receiving news that her death sentence had been carried out. A statement on Sri Lanka’s Ministry of External Affairs website said that President Rajapaksa and the Sri Lankan government “deplore” her beheading.

Background: widespread use of the death penalty:
Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty to a wide range of offences, and many of those executed in recent years have been foreign nationals - mostly migrant workers from poor and developing countries. Court proceedings in capital cases typically fall far short of international fair trial standards. Defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by a lawyer and in many cases are not told about the progress of legal proceedings against them.

Last year Amnesty recorded the execution of at least 79 people in the country, of whom 27 were foreign nationals. At least two death sentences have already been carried out this year, both foreign nationals. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all circumstances.

View latest press releases