By Fil Munas
13 January, 2013
They made her kneel and extend her neck, severing her young head with an unmerciful swish of a sword, shortly before noon on Wednesday, January 9, 2013. The forlorn woman was publicly beheaded by the pitiless Saudis in the town square of Dawadmi in Saudi Arabia, slaughtered like an animal for everyone to see, her separated head dropping to the ground with a muffled thud. Her name was Rizana Nafeek and she was from Muttur in Sri Lanka.
The tragedy of Rizana Nafeek is a gruesome story of innocence betrayed, the ghoulish tale of a precious life destroyed. It began in 2005 when Rizana, hardly seventeen, left her impoverished homeland of Sri Lanka to work as a servant maid in the oil-rich country of Saudi Arabia. She had embarked on this ill-fated journey to support her penurious family at home -- they lived in a decrepit shack, her father scavenged and sold firewood from the surrounding jungle for their sustenance, her desperate parents could not adequately provide for the children. Young Rizana, fired by the dreams and the innocence of youth, aspired to make a difference for her family with the relatively handsome wages she hoped to earn as a servant in Saudi Arabia.
Rizana arrived in Riyadh on May 4, 2005. She was immediately sent to work in the household of her sponsoring employer in the town of Dawadmi in central Saudi Arabia. Besides her numerous housekeeping tasks, she was ordered to care for her employer’s infant child who was about four months old at the time. While tending the infant on May 22, 2005, the baby choked while feeding and died as the maid frantically tried to save the child's life.
Rizana and the baby were in a room by themselves when this happened. As the distraught maid shrieked in horror, the infant’s absent mother who did not witness any of the antecedents, now rushed into the room and instantly accused Rizana of murdering the child.
Rizana was arrested on the spot. She was forced to confess to a crime she did not commit by the Saudi police using inhuman duress, then convicted of murder without any access to due process or the presumption of innocence. On June 16, 2007, the authorities sentenced the miserable maid to death by public beheading. Rizana subsequently stated she was threatened and beaten by the local police into signing the “confession.” No reason was given at the time of the one-sided trial to explain why someone who had worked hardly two weeks in a brand new country should suddenly develop a motive to murder her employer’s child. No autopsy was ever performed to ascertain the cause of death.
Rizana was abandoned by the authorities of her native Sri Lanka who did nothing to help her legally. At great financial expense, the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong appealed the sentence to the highest Saudi tribunals, but without success. Upon confirming her execution last Wednesday, the Saudi Interior Ministry added that Rizana was beheaded because she “strangled the baby” after “a dispute with the mother.” To the best of anyone’s knowledge, no revelations of any dispute with the mother or evidence that the baby was strangled, was ever offered by the Saudi authorities during the seven years they had her incarcerated. This cynical dissembling by the Saudi government in the post-execution statement, besmirching an innocent person they had killed in cold blood, is beyond mind-boggling. Rizana’s grieving parents requested her body returned home for a decent burial. The Saudis refused and buried her in a derelict’s grave.
Rizana had many supporters around the world pleading for her young life, yet none could save her from the immoral actions of a Saudi government oblivious to human rights and natural justice. Inexplicably, the modern world leaves unchallenged the odious behavior of an irrational and medieval regime riddled with self-righteous sanctimony and intolerance, possessing no respect for human rights or gender equality. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights must publicly denounce this monstrous abuse of a person and the unlawful death inflicted on an innocent fellow human by the custodians of a sordid system. High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay should speak out boldly against this abomination for her to have any credibility among fair-minded people around the world, and if she wishes to demonstrate that her Commission has a conscience.
Fil Munas, M.D. is a psychiatric physician and hobby bee-keeper living in Southern Illinois, USA.