SAUDI ARABIA: Sri Lankan teenager faces beheading within days

[10 July 2007] - A Sri Lankan teenager in Saudi Arabia faces beheading within days after being convicted of murder, despite having had no legal representation at her trial and reportedly being only 17 at the time of the alleged crime.

Rizana Nafeek, a domestic worker, was sentenced to death on 16 June 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. She has since retracted her confession. Despite facing imminent execution she still has no legal representation.

In Saudi Arabia court proceedings routinely 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 are often convicted solely on the basis of confessions obtained under duress, torture or deception.

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


Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The death penalty is always wrong but it is an absolute scandal that Saudi Arabia is preparing to behead a teenage girl who didn't even have a lawyer at her trial.

'The Saudi authorities are flouting an international prohibition on the execution of child offenders by even imposing a death sentence on a defendant who was reportedly 17 at the time of the alleged crime.

'Rizana's execution must be stopped and she must be allowed proper legal representation. Saudi Arabia should also freeze all further executions and stop what has become a torrent of judicial killing in recent months.'

Rizana has apparently informed the authorities that she was born in February 1988, but the Saudi authorities have reportedly ignored this on the basis that her passport indicated that she was born in 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.

In January 2006 Saudi Arabia assured the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that no children had been executed in the country since the children's convention came into force in Saudi Arabia in 1997.

Age at time of the alleged crime crucial

This is a weaker commitment than is required by the convention, which demands that no one is executed for crimes committed when they were under 18, no matter how old they are now.

Amnesty International is raising urgent concern over the plight of Rizana Nafeek at a time when executions in Saudi Arabia have increased rapidly. In the first six months of this year nearly 100 people in the Kingdom have already been executed, including three women.

Half of these have been foreign nationals, mostly from poor countries like Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2006 Saudi Arabia was known to have executed 39 people (though the true figure may have been higher), the seventh highest number in the world. This year the execution 'rate' is approximately five times higher than last year's, and Saudi Arabia is now likely to have one of the highest execution tolls for 2007 of any country in the world.

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