Four Sri Lankans Still Detained In Saudi Arabia

By Raisa Wickrematunge

Rizana’s family in Muttur , (file photos taken by Amadoru Amarajeewa) and Picture Courtesy:

On January 9 (Wednesday) the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed the tragic news – 24-year-old Rizana Nafeek had been executed.
Rizana was just a young girl from Muttur, but her name and her story are known to many. Her passport picture has been printed in newspapers across the country. To many, she has become a symbol- representing the many women who travel to the Middle East hoping to support their families. Her family was not wealthy and it was with hopes of a better future that she falsified her age, (with the collusion of the sub agent who handled her paperwork) planning to go overseas as a domestic worker.
Yet it all went horribly wrong after Rizana was left in charge of her employer’s four-months old, who was later found dead due to suffocation. Rizana confessed, and then retracted her confession, saying that she had been pressured into making it. The truth, she claimed, was that the death was a tragic accident, with the baby choking on milk while being fed.
After that, she was on death row for seven long years, while people, including her family, clamoured for her release. This culminated in the news of her beheading on Tuesday.
While Sri Lankans expressed their sorrow at the news through social media, few realized that Rizana was not the only one. In fact, as MP Ranjan Ramanayaka pointed out, there are at least four other Sri Lankans who, while not on death row, are currently detained in Saudi Arabia.
There’s Tungasiri, a man who worshipped a Buddha statue in the privacy of his room, and was arrested because of it (Saudi Arabia is governed by Islamic sharia law). There’s the man known as Kadawatha Asitha, who had shared an online photo of a cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammed. Ramanayaka said that there was also a man who was arrested for possessing a Bible (he had received the information from Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Minister of Labour and Foreign Employment Dilan Perera). One woman was arrested after she wore a black pirith thread to the supermarket, and the policemen there thought she was a witch.
“There are so many cases like this, of people who are languishing in jail. It is a pathetic situation,” Ramanayaka told The Sunday Leader.
It also took years for the state to suspend the license of the sub agent which sent Rizana overseas illegally, Ramanayaka alleged.
Ramanayaka has long campaigned for Rizana Nafeek, and indeed for the rights of migrant workers as a group. In the aftermath of Nafeek’s sudden execution, he laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Government, saying that if the state had taken care of the astronomical legal fees, or even provided lawyers and translators, Rizana might still be alive today. The case was closed off from the public, he pointed out, and Rizana had not had access to lawyers until after the death sentence had already been passed. He alleged that the confession she had made had been beaten out of her by Amlai police.
Ramanayaka added that the confidence of the state had been such that when last week he had spoken about Rizana in Parliament, Minister Perera had said that while the process of freeing her would take time, she would never be beheaded, especially because the President had support from the Middle East.
In fact, it was reported that Perera had been asking about the possibility of a pardon even at 1:15 pm- after the first reports were released about Rizana’s death, although the Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs, Karunatilaka Amunugama, said that to his knowledge no such requests had been made from Parliament after Rizana had been executed. Perera was not available for comment at the time of the article going to press.
Ramanayaka also charged that since Saudi officials sent funds to help Sri Lankan Muslims celebrate the Hajj festival; Muslim leaders in Parliament had remained silent rather than campaign for Rizana’s release.
However, Minister of Justice, Rauf Hakeem released a statement following the news expressing ‘shock and remorse’ and adding that he had remained in contact with Rizana’s parents in Muttur for a long period of time.
“According to the law of their country there was a fundamental requirement for the accused to be pardoned by the parents of the deceased child. That is why we sought mercy from the deceased child’s parents and the family clan,” Hakeem added, saying that Sri Lanka had respected Saudi Arabia’s decision to uphold their judicial decree.
Now, the MP said he was planning a protest in front of the US embassy. The reason for this, he said, was in the hope that the US would pressurize the Saudi King to release the other four prisoners who are still under arrest. The Saudis would not feel pressure from a small country like Sri Lanka, he added.
Ministry of External Affairs Secretary Amunugama maintained that Sri Lanka had worked hard to try and obtain her release. In the past couple of weeks, the Minister of External Affairs had written to his Saudi counterpart, and the President himself had written to the Saudi King twice, pleading for clemency. There had been several trips to Saudi Arabia, and Rizana’s parents had been able to meet their daughter. In fact, there had recently been a meeting between the Attorney General and the Sri Lankan ambassador for Saudi Arabia, which it was thought, had gone successfully. He added that Rizana had united people of all ethnicities, who were calling for her release. With recent discussions ending favourably, it was even thought that Rizana would be released soon, Amunugama said. Yet all these hopes were dashed with news of the sudden execution. Amunugama said that he did not think the move would have any negative effect on relations between the two countries, but added that Parliamentarians and the public were disappointed and saddened by the decision. On Thursday, in fact, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ahamed Javad was recalled, Amunugama confirmed, to show displeasure over the move.
And to add insult to injury, it has been reported that Rizana’s body was buried in Saudi Arabia (Ramanayaka told The Sunday Leader that Rizana’s mother was in floods of tears, while her father had suffered a heart attack and was in hospital after news of the execution reached them).
Meanwhile, several organizations expressed their shock about Rizana’s death. Amnesty International, for instance, released a statement saying that Saudi Arabia was acting against international conventions on the death penalty. Saudi Arabia is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (it ratified the convention in 1996) which expressly prohibits imposing the death penalty on children who are under 18 years of age. As was subsequently proven, Rizana was just 17 at the time of the incident in Riyadh.
“Despite a chorus of pleas for Saudi Arabian authorities to step in and reconsider Rizana Nafeek’s death sentence, they went ahead and executed her anyway, proving once more how woefully out of step they are with their international obligations regarding the use of the death penalty,” said Philip Luther, Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. Human Rights Watch also strongly condemned the execution.
“Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that execute people for crimes they committed as children,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch. “Rizana is yet another victim of the deep flaws in Saudi Arabia’s judicial system.”
“Rizana was just a child herself at the time of the baby’s death, and she had no lawyer to defend her and no competent interpreter to translate her account,” said Varia. “Saudi Arabia should recognize, as the rest of the world long has, that no child offender should ever be put to death.”
For of course, accusations have also been made that not only was Rizana legally a child, she also did not have access to lawyers and translators when she was being questioned. Human Rights Watch contends that in fact Rizana did not have access to a lawyer until after she was sentenced to death in 2007- surely a violation of rights. Disturbing allegations which were never disproved – and now, it is too late.

18 Comments for “Four Sri Lankans Still Detained In Saudi Arabia”

  1. Tony Goonetilleke

    Saudi Arabia is the land of the Holy Prophet. People should not condemn them for following Islamic Laws which are an example to the world. Islamic Law does not seem to regard children as such. Even their Prophet married a child when he was an old man.

    • Sandy

      Find out the facts, before writing. Most of the messengers of God Almighty had young wives, although their spouses were very old. According to biblical accounts and bible, it is clearly stated that eye for eye, nose for nose. We all weep for this child, but what have we done. Sri Lanka has cheated by sending underage children. We need to rectify this law. Even the popes, monks and priests are known for child molesting,

    • sandman

      Tony, please get your facts straight. The Prophet (PBUH) never lived to be AN OLD MAN in the first place. Please do not distort facts on a public forum.

    • jayantha

      That mean Saudi follow Islamic Law only for forigners ? how about Quran dont they follw those ? how come a child mother not feed breast milk is it against Quran ? what a F……………… Islam .

  2. Alisten-Australia

    This is our counrty export poor muslims to Muslim counrties and our politicans are living happily on those foregin currency . Srilanak should find a way to give those poor people. Just a question to Muslim MPS, Have they developed muslims standard of living or increase their wealth. All Muslim MP’S shuould be shame and also so called Muslim Religion old laws are applicable to only Srilankans and Indians

  3. sandman

    The Sharia Law is very clear and the King or the Saudi government could NOT have done anything else, since the MOTHER of the dead Baby demanded an Execution. But that said, If Rizana had been an American or European the Saudis would have found a way out of this situation for that individual. The Americans and Europeans have a DIFFERENT RULE in Saudi Arabia and all the other PUPPET regimes in place over there.

    • Rizvi

      You are correct.

      Saudies are (most) stupid bastards, including the His Royal Highness to the highest level (the old man).

      They misinterpreted Islam and practicing what is not said in is Islam, Go to Hell all off you BASTARDS (fking (stupid) Shoura council).

      …These bastards forgot that they fed/beg from our foods (India and Srilanka/Cerendib) not even a century ago!… Go and read we have sent you ship loads of foods freely (as charity).

      Long live good innocents of Saudies.


  4. jayantha

    It’s all too late talking about SL Government should have taken more interested on this issue .
    I remember even none of the lawyers including SLFB don’t wanna to take this issue seriously , now talking about this, 1st of all i must say this , when others nationalities ,or religious shows that Muslims fundamental are not treating humans in respects , they destroys flags, sabotages, even kills. is anyone can tell me who the Muslims had raised the voice , or appear for Rizana Nafeek ? Why these people do kept silent. What Quran tells about it . Forgiveness, kindness, to be given to all followers.
    Lets now all take this is a serious matter, remember even we are from small country we can make wonders, (Sri lanka is only democratic country ever won the battle with terrorist. whole world knows about it ,

    • Rizvi


      But we are not aware what sentences passport fakers and other roughs are getting now, as a result of these cheats a innocent life has gone for ever.

      These are our bastards, need to be life sentenced, if not killed.

    • sandman

      I really think that the Muslims should be HAPPY on one side (quite selfishly) that Rizana Nafeek was a MUSLIM, otherwise with so many VILE and MURDEROUS views expressed by some people towards this incident, makes me think that if Rizana had been a NON MUSLIM, then a BIG BIG UGLY POGRAM (July 1983) style would have put the Lankan Muslim community under the sword themselves and they would have been MURDERED and BURNED out by now.

  5. LIMA


    • jayantha

      .How come you defined Saudi law and Islam law . Rizana was killed , buried according to Islam don’t try to show that Muslims has different laws in this world

    • Rizvi

      Lima you are correct.

      But Saudi Arabia is an Islamic country with bunch of non practicing bunch of bastards.

      Many does not know Islam is misinterpreted by these Saudi bastards, and tarnishing Islam.

  6. Dr M L Najimudeen

    What is in Saudi is neither Sharia law no Islamic law. It is only a family law. In Sharia law the crime should be proved beyond an aorta of doubt. In the case of Rizana, there wre many dobuts. The intention of murder was not proved. There were no witness for strangulation . The postmortem examination is the only scientific evidence to differentiate between accidental milk aspiration and strangulation. Postmortem was not done in this case. Hence there is no charge at all .According to Sharia law could have been released without any charges. Keeping Budha stature and Bible are not serious matters. If at all they may be warned and pardoned. Islam is very tolerant but unfortunately misunderstood by many including authorities

  7. Shaik Anwar Ahamath

    Our gutless Muslim leaders do not want to upset the bloodthirsty Saudis lest their funding dry up. They quote the Sharia Laws at the drop of a hat but excuse the Saudis when they flout it. Firstly Rizana Nafeek was a minor when the alleged crime was committed and Sharia Laws prohibit beheading minors. Secondly the mother of the dead child that should have been breast-fed was instead left in the care of a relative stranger who had no experience of looking after an infant. People have asked why she did not refuse. What, and have nails inserted into her body as had happened. You’ll recognise that the Sharia Laws appear to be applied only on the poor and defenceless. Have you ever heard it applied to anybody from the West?

  8. jayagoda

    Law of the land people, In sri lanka you can kill a British tourist and walk freely or contest for local elections, Its the other way around in Saudi, These rules are made for Saudi nationals and our poor people go there to work has to abide by their law to stay safe. Three months ago Sri Lankan Driver killed his own Saudi sponsor, and he will be beheaded soon. This Driver wrote a letter to his family in Sri Lanka to say I will not be coming home again and commited this crime. So he will be beheaded in the same manner. Its not a rose Garden working in Saudi, It’s so difficult for any one, Don’t blame religions and nations. Blame yourselves.

  9. Dan

    I am very saddened to know the plight of these Sri Lankans mentioned in this article, and hope it will get sorted in order for them to return home soon. It is a shame that the SL govt. officials turn a blind eye as they are only interested in fattening their pockets & continue to enjoy the hard earned foreign exchange by our slaving domestics.
    Majority of these people do not have a clue as to what is, and what is not acceptable working as a domestic. Do they know they are going to a place where laws are primitive, and this the very reason why the natives of these lands move elsewhere? This is weird!
    Please spread the word!

    The ——- are not happy!

    They’re not happy in Gaza, They’re not happy in Egypt
    They’re not happy in Libya, They’re not happy in Morocco
    They’re not happy in Iran, They’re not happy in Iraq
    They’re not happy in Yemen, They’re not happy in Afghanistan
    They’re not happy in Pakistan . They’re not happy in Syria
    They’re not happy in Lebanon, So, where are they happy?

    They’re happy in Australia, They’re happy in England
    They’re happy in France, They’re happy in Italy
    They’re happy in Germany, They’re happy in Sweden
    They’re happy in the USA,They’re happy in Norway
    They’re happy in Holland, They’re happy in Denmark

    Basically, they’re happy in every country that is not ———-
    and unhappy in every country that is! And who do they blame?

    Not Islam. Not their leadership. Not themselves.


    And then !!! they want to change those countries to be like….

    Excuse me, but I can’t help wondering… How dumb can you get?

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