Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Tragic 24 year existence of Rizana Nafeek – and Execution

Just imagine if you are a semi literate muslim girl of 17 from a tiny village near Muttur, whose family STILL LIVE in a mud hut, whose age is manipulated by a job agent to prepare a passport and send her off to domestic service in Saudi Arabia in April of 2005! 

Why has this family NOT graduated from a MUD HUT all these years? If we had any sympathy for the plight of the girl, we SHOULD have at least provided her parents with life’s basics, so they could at least write to her say that their circumstances had improved despite her incarceration and for her not to fret for their safety and welfare. I AM SHAMED AS A SRI LANKAN THAT WE HAVE NOT DONE MORE FOR THIS POOR FAMILY IN ALL THESE 7 YEARS THEY HAVE STOICALLY CARRIED THIS BURDEN.

the photo is of Rizana's parents under a thatched roof

You go (you are a minor) because you feel you owe it to your family to help them out of their abject poverty, and perhaps earn and send some money to them so they can perhaps first feed your hungry siblings and then build a room out of brick to ward off the rain and scorpions in the hut. (I know, I also have a mud hut and find that in the dry zone, scorpions in the crevices are a problem when sleeping in the night.) Even if she knowingly knew that her age was altered, could you blame her?

Then within 2 months of her arrival in a strange country with strange customs, not used to feeding infants with formula,( remember we still breast feed our babies at 6 months) and when the child choked and died, possibly due to the milk going down the windpipe, she WAS ACCUSED OF MURDER.

Then with NO help from our Embassy for translation, NOT knowing Arabic, in an ONLY Arabic speaking country, she HAD NO CLUE WHAT WAS HAPPENING. Only after she was sentenced for murder did our people wake up. IF SHE HAD TIMELY REPRESENTATION, she could have avoided a guilty verdict. Irrespective of her age, (namely of being a minor, which was not told or known by the authorities in Saudi at this stage, as Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the international conventions on minors as well, not prosecuting them under adult laws) she would have avoided the guilty verdict and freedom by now.

After over 7½ years in jail, having two visits from her parents during that time, under Saudi Sharia Law, it was ONLY up to the mother of the infant to grant her pardon, which could have secured her release. The mother DID NOT WISH TO DO SO, blaming the girl for the death. I do not blame the mother, as I DO NOT know what goes through the mind of a mother who loses her baby, that she did not pardon the girl. I know many people blame the mother for being callous and not forgiving the child. She probably has not received enough counseling in a country that treats women as second class citizens to come to terms with this. The manner in which Saudi’s treat their females is not under issue here, nor the validity of Sharia law as a true muslim law, as there is debate as to merits and validity of both.

I blame the system, for not ensuring she received adequate representation to present her side of the case. I also wish to point out that her age SHOULD have been disclosed at the time of her accusation and corrected, but our Embassy then and even now does not have the facilities to protect our citizens in issues such as this, and whilst the Govt. of Sri Lanka at the time was amassing arms from overseas from the money the maids from places like Saudi Arabia were sending to fight the LTTE, it was obviously low priority issue.

I have said this before and repeat it here, that it is the likes of Rizana who are our “RANAVIRU” just as much as the soldiers, who both helped along with the farmers to win this war against the LTTE. The Sweat blood and lives of our foreign guest workers who send money to Sri Lanka ALSO greatly assisted us in winning the war.

I blame the Saudi Authorities in the recent days for giving hope, that also resulted in a direct appeal by the Sri Lankan President to the King of Saudi Arabia for clemency as it was NOT HIS TO GIVE. This charade, made the situation more insulting, when we heard yesterday that she was Executed by beheading Saudi Style at age 24 for that supposed crime, which only God knows what actually transpired.

What are the lessons we need to know from this so that her life was not sacrificed in vain?

1 We must educate all those who leave for these jobs as to the possibilities that may transpire and be honest as to how the legal process works against them in the host countries.

2 We must have a means of tracking the whereabouts of our citizens, and they MUST know how to contact a consular official when they need assistance.

3 We must without exception ensure that all those who leave, are of legal age, undergo a month’s acclimatization training and are fully apprised of the pros and cons of the host country they intend to work at.

4 It is important that we have sufficient resources to protect and assist our citizens in host countries to prevent the occurrence of such in Rizana’s memory.


Anonymous said...

You know, more than anything, I'm ashamed as a Sri Lankan that we still have to send these women to ruthless Arabic countries as housemaids and subject them to so much pain and suffering in order to survive as a country. It really sickens me.

What you've written towards the end of your post is what we need to do in the short term. In the long term, we must figure out a way to not send any woman to countries where they hate women.

So probably our long term plan should be sending women to better countries than Arab, and if we send anyone to Arab, only send high-skilled labourers, not helpless housemaids.

Anonymous said...

Well done Sri Lanka, some backbone at last by recalling our Ambassador to show our disgust of killing a hapless pauper.

Saudis now do the same if you have any shame! no shame no gain. Now march on the Saudi Embassy and call the rats to book!

Anonymous said...

there are many many issues here to discuss and analyze with regard to the government of Sri Lanka, the government of Saudi Arabia, Islam, the global economy and more.

One that I would like to focus on itself is Saudi society. I think it is wrong to say that there was no way that the government of Saudi Arabia could not get Rizana out of the executioner's galley if they wanted to. IF the clemency was in the hands of the woman whose child died, could the King of Saudi Arabia not influence her to show some compassion? Had the King of SA or some other influential govenment figure made overtures to that Saudi family a deal could have been worked out. The point is they did not do it in any meaningful way. So they question is 'WHY?"

I propose that it has to do with 2 things: race and gender. Despite SA being a "Muslim" country, the culture of SA presumes the superiority of ARABS over others, even if the others are Muslims. The reality is that Sri Lankans are looked down upon in that country, something like hairless monkeys in their eyes -- particularly dark ones unlike Hakeem -- and hence the SA Goverment wasn't interested in helping us despite some late efforts on the part of the GoSL to get her out. In addition, Rizana was a woman and we know what the Saudi's think of women.

It is totally wrong to put ALL of the blame on the government of Sri Lanka but if you refer to my observation in your earlier blog entry there are plenty of areas to criticize them for on this -- which opportunistic opposition politicians will surely do despite them helping to create a system to send our women to work in countries that look down on them.

Anonymous said...

... and then to add to the complete lack of regard that the SA government has for Sri Lankans, they didn't even return the body as requested. Horrible! MR is going to get some flack for this unless he can blame it on someone else! G.L. may have to start packing his bags! Mervyn may get to unpack his bags as his story is out of the front pages now!

Anonymous said...

it's time for the opposition to pounce, and actually have the ability to score some political points. The main line of attack is the incompetence of those in government "service" that promise the world but when it comes to delivery they are lacking in ability. they should have been able to save this hapless young woman. Now get out there and make some political hay! forget about the complex issues of governance, as this is an issue everyone can understand.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for giving a detailed account of this tragic story.

I must say that the mainstream media has failed to do so on what would easily run as a front page story in the states for weeks.

Remember the American in Singapore who go major media coverage just because he was to be caned?

If Rizana was American she would have never suffered this fate. The diplomatic/political/media apparatus of the country would have easily saved her.

Sri Lanaka could have saved her as well, but you are missing a big point.

The SL leaders, deep in their hearts, don't give a damn.

They are killing, torturing, persecuting, intimidating, and robbing their own citizens on a day to day basis.

What do they really care about Rizana??

There is no EMPATHY among the leaders.

My fear is that there is also no EMPATHY among the people in Sri Lanka.

Our society has become rotten to the core. All you have to do is look at who they vote for.

We Sri Lankans are a pathetic DISGRACE!