, RIYADH, Jan 9 – Saudi Arabia beheaded a Sri Lankan maid on Wednesday after she was convicted of murdering her employer’s baby, drawing sharp condemnation from Colombo which had repeatedly urged a stay of execution.
Human rights groups too expressed condemnation, noting that Rizana Nafeek had been just 17 at the time of the offence and that Saudi Arabia was just three countries in the world to impose the death penalty for crimes committed as a minor.
Nafeek was found guilty of smothering the infant to death after an argument with the child’s mother, her employer, the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.
She was beheaded in the Dawadmi province near the capital Riyadh.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the execution while lawmakers observed a minute’s silence during Wednesday’s sessions as parliament was told the execution went ahead even as Colombo tried to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to plead for mercy.
“President Rajapakse and the government deplore the execution of Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally,” the ministry said.
Rajapakse had made another appeal for the maid’s life last week.
Human Rights Watch said that Nafeek, who was only 17 when the child died in 2005, had retracted “a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle.”
“In executing Rizana Nafeek, Saudi authorities demonstrated callous disregard for basic humanity as well as Saudi Arabia’s international legal obligations,” the New York-based watchdog’s senior women’s rights researcher, Nisha Varia, said.
HRW “opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality,” the watchdog said. “Given the possibility of mistakes in any criminal justice system, innocent people may be executed.”
This is the second execution of the year in Saudi Arabia after a Syrian was beheaded on Tuesday for drug trafficking.
Last year, the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom beheaded 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures. HRW put the number at 69.
Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under its strict version of sharia, or Islamic law.