SAUDI ARABIA: CHRISTIANS BEG CLEMENCY FOR MUSLIM WOMAN CONDEMNED TO DEATH

A heartfelt appeal and a petition to save Rizana Nafeek, a young Sri Lankan Muslim woman sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia, is being circulated by Christian, Muslim and Buddhist religious leaders, as well as several human rights organizations.

The appeal asks Saudi King Abdullah to pardon Rizana Nafeek. Last October, the Saudi Supreme Court upheld the death sentence handed down in 2007 by a court that had convicted her of murder.

Rizana is accused of killing a child of four months in 2005, the son of a Saudi woman in whose house she worked as a maid. Rizana, 17 years old at the time, had not received any training in childcare. Nevertheless, she had been entrusted with the care of the baby without any supervision. The child choked and died while being fed by bottle, while his parents were not at home. Rizana has always asserted her innocence, pointing out that it was an accident. But she was accused of murder and, given her difficulties with the Arabic language, she even signed a confession.

The sentence is currently suspended, given a appeal for clemency submitted by lawyers to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Saudi king. The king has three options: he may grant a pardon, confirm the verdict of conviction, or ignore the appeal.

Caritas of Sri Lanka, a Catholic charitable organization, launched a petition to save Rizana on the UN Human Rights Day. The campaign, entitled “Justice for Rizana”, already has the signatures of about a thousand people, including Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, demanding the release of Rizana. To support the campaign there is also the Asian Human Rights Commission, which launched the “Save Rizana” appeal, welcomed by other organizations working to protect human rights in Sri Lanka and in Asia.

Rizana is one of thousands of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. There are about 1.3 million Sri Lankan migrant workers employed mainly in the Middle East and in Europe, which guarantee remittances of more than three billion dollars, effective support for the economy of Sri Lanka.

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