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All Eyes on Rizana Nafeek

On November 16, 2011

Saudi Arabia is set to behead another migrant worker unless Sri Lanka can persuade authorities to grant Rizana Nafeek amnesty. Media outlets worldwide are monitoring the story closely as part of the mounting attention Saudi’s policies have received since the June execution of Ruyati Binti Sapubi.

Rizana was originally sentenced in 2007 for the murder of her employer’s baby. Rizana maintained the baby choked to death, but Saudi’s discriminatory legal system likely rendered her defense futile. Critics chastise the Sri Lankan government for failing to provide Rizana with legal aid throughout her prosecution and only intervening after her conviction. Sri Lanka is rushing to stay her imminent execution in a delegation set to meet with officials in Riyadh. Rizana’s parents will reportedly join Sri Lankan representatives to appeal for their daughter’s life. NGOs have also weighed in to pressure the Saudi government; the Asian Human Right's Comission (AHRC) has illustrated the critical importance of activist organizations in filling the void of bungling governments, spending over $30,000 to defend Rizana when Sri Lanka would not.

Sri Lanka claims that the execution has been suspended, despite any official announcement from the Saudi government. Rizana’s fate may ultimately depend upon Sri Lanka’s adherence to Saudi law rather than any efforts to reprehend their legal practices; in past cases, only the victim’s family could pardon the sentenced party. The Sri Lankan government has offered the Saudi parents financial compensation to ‘encourage’ their forgiveness.

The Saudi government does not release the schedule of its executions, indefinitely sustaining musings over Rizana’s future; whether Rizana becomes another casualty of craven governments, the recipient of subsidized reprieve, or the herald of a new era for migrant rights, are aftereffects secondary to her physical well-being, but nonetheless significant.

Read Time's coverage of Rizana's case here.

Update: The Sri Lankan delegation, which included Rizana' s parents, arrived in Riyadh Tuesday.

Tuesday’s meeting was the first between Nafeek and her parents following her death sentence on June 16, 2007.

The Sri Lankan government officials described the situation as "a delicate affair."

“Take me home,” Nafeek cried when she met father Mohammed and mother Rifana at a Dawadmi jail. The trio embraced each other.

Read the full story here.