Last updated: 10 January, 2013

EU dismayed at Saudi beheading of Sri Lankan maid

Sri Lanka recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia Thursday to protest the beheading of a maid in the kingdom as her family pressed for her remains to be flown home.

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Secretary Karunatillake Amunugama said they asked ambassador Ahmed A. Jawad to return home immediately to register Colombo’s protest over Wednesday’s execution of Rizana Nafeek at a prison near Riyadh.

“We are recalling him to show our displeasure,” Amunugama told reporters in Colombo. He said Sri Lanka had made repeated appeals to spare her life.

The move came as President Mahinda Rajapakse deplored the execution which was carried out despite his latest clemency appeal over the weekend.

The family of Nafeek was in shock after hearing of the beheading and was pleading with the authorities to bring back her body, said family friend, Abdul Jihad, in the eastern village of Muttur.

“The family is completely heartbroken,” Jihad, 46, told AFP by telephone. “They want Rizana’s body brought back, although we have been told that they have already buried her.”

Jihad, a science teacher at a local school who had taught Rizana, said the Sri Lankan authorities had earlier raised the family’s hopes with their repeated appeals for clemency.

“The villagers will pray for her tomorrow after Friday prayers,” Jihad said, adding that Rizana had travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2005 to work as a housemaid when she was barely 17.

She had hoped to earn enough to build a house for her family, who are living in a makeshift home, said Jihad.

“The mother is still in shock and her father is very ill and will be hospitalised soon,” he added.

The European Union expressed dismay and said it had asked Saudi authorities to commute the death penalty.

Sri Lankan newspapers carried banner headlines about the execution and parliament observed a minute’s silence on Wednesday, while some lawmakers called for a ban on sending local women to Saudi Arabia to work as housemaids.

Human rights groups have condemned the beheading, noting that Nafeek was just 17 when she was accused of killing the baby of her Saudi employer.

She was found guilty of smothering the infant after an argument with the child’s mother, the Saudi interior ministry has said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Nafeek had retracted “a confession” that she said was made under duress. She said 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.

Last year the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom beheaded 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures, while HRW put the number at 69.