Saudi Arabia has beheaded a young Sri Lankan housemaid despite years of appeals for clemency from her home country and widespread international condemnation. The woman was sentenced to death for the 2005 killing of an infant entrusted to her care.
Rizana Nafeek, 24, was executed on Wednesday morning in the town of Dawadmy, some 250 miles from the capital Riyadh, the Saudi Internior Ministry said in a statement.
Nafeek was sentenced to death in 2007 after her wealthy Saudi employer accused her of killing his 4-month-old daughter after the baby choked while being bottle fed. The Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statement claiming the infant was strangled after a dispute between Nafeek and the baby's mother.
Sri Lanka appealed against the death penalty, but it was upheld by the Saudi Supreme Court in 2010.
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa personally appealed to Saudi authorities on two separate occasions in an attempt to stop the execution from going forward.
"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," Reuters cites the Sri Lankan foreign ministry as saying in a statement.
Nafeek was only 17-years-old when she flew to the Gulf Kingdom in May 2005 on a forged passport that said she was 6 years older than she actually was. She had no training and spoke no Arabic, and the incident is said to have occurred just days after her arrival in the country.
Rights groups claim her 2007 conviction was made under duress and have chastised Saudi authorities for carrying out the death penalty despite the fact that she was not legally an adult when the infant died.
Prior to her execution, Amnesty International said Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or trial.
"Despite a chorus of pleas for 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,” Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program said on Wednesday.
Human Rights Watch also 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.
Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that follows the strict Wahhabi school of Islam, has a legal system based on Islamic or Sharia law rather than legal codes and precedents.
Some 90 per cent of Saudi Arabia's private sector workforce is made up of foreign workers, and maids from Africa and South Asia have become indispensable in many households.
There are documented cases, however, of maids who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of their employers going on to attack the children entrusted to their care.
In January 2012 the United Nations human rights office expressed concern that executions in Saudi Arabia were on the rise.
Compared to 2010 when 26 people received capital punishment rulings for various crimes, in 2011 there were 76 executions in the kingdom.
The stiff penalties of Sharia can be mitigated however, especially for those who are financially well off.
In the case of murder, the “eye for an eye” principle of Islamic law allows capital punishment to be replaced with Diyya or “Blood money” – a ransom paid by the family of the killer if the bereaved family agrees.
For migrant workers who are unable to pay such high levels of compensation, however, the death penalty appears all but unavoidable.