RIYADH, 10 June 2008 — The lawyer defending Rizana Nafeek, a 20-year-old Sri Lankan maid who was found guilty and sentenced to death on a charge of murdering an infant in her care, questioned yesterday the validity of the translation of the Tamil-speaking woman’s statements to police.
Kateb Al-Shammary questioned whether these statements were translated by someone qualified to do accurate Tamil-to-Arabic translations of Nafeek’s statements made after she was arrested on May 22, 2005, for the death of a baby in her care in the town of Dawadmi, about 220 km east of Riyadh.
Al-Shammary, Nafeek and Naif Jiziyan Khalaf Al-Otaibi, the father of the dead infant, were present in court during the hearing.
The translators sent by the Sri Lankan Embassy to look after Nafeek’s interests were refused permission to enter the courtroom since the judges wanted to listen only to the attorney’s submissions during the hearing.
The lawyer said he wants to know the credentials, background and proficiency in Tamil of the translator who interpreted Nafeek’s statement at the police station at the time of her arrest. The court told the attorney that his statement would be deferred to the Supreme Judicial Council for its own decision.
Yesterday marks the fourth time Nafeek appeared before the Dawadmi High Court. The court first sentenced her to death in June 2007. The case was appealed a month later. In December 2007, the Cassation Court sent the case back to Dawadmi. In March the Dawadmi court sent the case to the Supreme Judicial Council and in April the case was bounced back to Dawadmi. However, the head of the Dawadmi court, Sheikh Abdullah Abdulaziz Al-Rosaimi, insisted that the Supreme Judicial Council should take up any further objections and the case was sent back.
But the Supreme Judicial Council recently returned the case to the Dawadmi court, ruling that judges must hear Al-Shammary’s objections. The court once again said yesterday that the Supreme Judicial Council would have to address the attorney’s objections.
Al-Shammary further argued that Nafeek, who was 17 at the time she came to Saudi Arabia on a passport that stated her age as 23, was never hired to be a nanny and that the death occurred due to her inexperience with newborns.
Nafeek came to the Kingdom to work through a placement agency that forged the age on her passport to make it appear that she was 23.
The name of the placement agency that violated Sri Lankan and international law (by trafficking in minors) has never been identified.
Nafeek’s birth certificate states that she was born on Feb. 4, 1988, which means she was 17 when she came to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid and then given the task by the family — who believed she was 23 — of caring for a newborn baby.
Nafeek was arrested on May 22, 2005, shortly after an infant in her care died. Nafeek had been working for the family for less than two weeks when, as she claims, the baby choked during bottle-feeding. The family maintains that Nafeek committed pre-meditated murder. She was taken to the Dawadmi police station that day where she allegedly signed a murder confession. Later Nafeek retracted her alleged confession, saying that on the day of her arrest she signed a sheet of paper with Arabic writing on it under duress with no translators present.
Yesterday’s court hearing indicates that statements may have been translated from Tamil into Arabic at some point — either on the day of her arrest or later.