Advocacy, Media and Communications

Rizana’s future: what WE CAN DO.

The beheading of Rizana, a Sri Lankan migrant worker in Saudi Arabia feels unstoppable. I first heard about this issue late last week ago, but only found out yesterday that her execution is scheduled for the 16th July – in a few days time.

Why didn’t I know earlier? She was arrested in May 2005 and was sentenced to death on 16 June 2007. But, rather than analysing my poor information flows and the lack of publicity this case has received, it’s better to concentrate on what can be done to delay the execution of someone who has not received proper legal representation, and from all accounts, appears to have been wrongly convicted.

According to her certified birth certificate, Rizana was born in February 1988. She’s currently 19 years old.

Today’s Daily Mirror describes the chain of events that lead to Rizana’s arrest.

The girl Rizana Nasik went to work at the house of her Saudi employer whose wife had a new-born baby boy. A short time after she started working for this family she was assigned to bottle feed the infant who was by then four months old.

She had no experience of any sort in caring for such a young infant. She was left alone when bottle feeding the child. While she was feeding the child the boy started choking, as so often happens to babies and Rizana Nasik panicked and while shouting for help tried to soothe the child by feeling the chest, neck and face, doing whatever she could to help him.

At her shouting the mother arrived but by that time the baby was either unconscious or dead. Unfortunately, misunderstanding the situation the family members treated the teenager harshly and handed her over to the police, accusing her of strangling the baby.

Rizana, like hundreds of thousands of other Sri Lankan women, had gone to work in the Middle East to alleviate her and her family’s poverty. Through the remittance from people like her, Sri Lanka is kept financially afloat.

There have been reports of Government representatives meeting to figure out what to do. But in this situation, I am not optimistic that Sri Lanka’s Government will do anything that is effective to help a poor Muslim woman (who has no political influence) on death-row in a far away country. Out of sight, out of mind.

What strikes me about Rizana’s case is that it can happen to anyone. There are plenty of examples of wrongly accused people who have received plenty of legal support, being executed. But in her case, she doesn’t speak the language and has received no proper legal assistance.

So what can we do?

Now, I know there are people who read this who would have the mobile numbers of some of Sri Lanka’s leading politicians and other highly influential people. You could call them and ask them what they are doing about the case. We are not trying to change or interfere with the Saudi regime’s policy on executions (that’s another campaign). Rather, we are trying to explain that Rizana simply needs proper representation so her case can be presented with all the facts.

There are a number of human rights organisations working on the issue, including Amnesty and the Asian Human Rights Centre.

Please do visit the AHRC site as it includes a call for ordinary people to take action on this issue. The site also goes in to more detail about the background of Rizana’s situation. I understand there is a handful of individual activists from Sri Lanka developing strategies.

Now I am not an expert in any of this, but the immediate aim should be to delay Rizana’s execution.

Here are some activities we can do:

  • Inform Sri Lankan diaspora world-wide of the case and get them to relay pressure on the governments of the countries they live in to intervene. People in Europe and Australia could be very effective.
  • Approach the British High Commission in Riyadh that a Commonwealth citizen needs assistance.
  • Contact the Foreign Commonwealth Office and inform them a Commonwealth citizen needs assistance in Riyadh.
  • Identify qualified lawyers who may be able to assist in any appeal that may happen in the case. Currently, the Sri Lanka Embassy in Saudi Arabia is indicating that a Saudi law firm will be appointed, and is requiring a fee of Rs 4.5 million.
  • Encourage the media, especially the international media, to give publicity to this case.
  • Fax or email the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to take action. The contents of the fax or email can be a detailed submission, or simply a personal request to please investigate the case of Rizana’s further.
  • Ask ‘civil society’ groups such as Centre for Policy Alternatives what they are doing about the case.

There’s not much time before the 16th July. Let’s hope something positive can happen and that Rizana will not be executed.