Saudi Arabia beheads Sri Lankan maid for murdering baby

The maid, who was 17 when the incident occurred in 2005, had retracted a confession that she said was made under duress, saying the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle, rights group says.

Saudi Arabia executed a Sri Lankan domestic worker today after she was convicted of murdering a baby under her care in 2005, according to an interior ministry statement.

Rizana Nakeef, who claimed to be just 17 years old at the time of the incident, was sentenced to death by beheading in June 2007 by a court outside Riyadh. Amnesty International reported that Nakeef also claimed her confession to the child’s strangling was forced under physical duress and that the infant had in fact choked while drinking from a bottle.

Ms Nakeef’s legal team appealed the initial ruling, but her sentence was upheld by the highest Saudi court, the Supreme Court, in 2010.

The execution took place despite pleas from the Sri Lankan government, which twice approached Saudi authorities to request Nakeef be pardoned. On Monday, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote directly to King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud requesting clemency, according to a statement from Mr Rajapksa’s office.

International human rights groups had repeatedly raised concerns about the sentence and the conduct of the trial - including a lack of translation services and access to lawyers for the accused. Saudi Arabia is party to the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the death penalty for crimes committed by minors.

The ministry statement carried by the official SPA news agency said Nafeek had smothered the infant to death after an argument with the child’s mother, her employer.

She was beheaded in the Dawadmi province near the capital Riyadh, AFP reported.

A letter claiming to be from Nakeef’s father, posted at a supportive website online, said that the family had sent her to Saudi Arabia after becoming homeless in the 2004 tsunami that swept through South Asia. Although she was 16 at the time, her passport was amended to report her age as 23 so that she could seek employment.

In 2011, Saudi Arabia beheaded a 54-year-old Indonesian domestic worker convicted of killing her Saudi employer with a meat clever.

Last year, the kingdom beheaded 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures. Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death.

Nakeef's killing is the second execution of the year in Saudi Arabia after a Syrian was beheaded on Tuesday for drug trafficking.

*With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse