It's been over two years since I have written about the plight of a young migrant Sri Lankan maid named Rizana Nafeek. At 17, she travelled to Saudi Arabia on a passport forged by an employment agent in order to make a few dollars for her very poor family. In her caste, girls her age were often sold into sex slavery by foreign labour contractors, so she considered herself very lucky to have found employment with a wealthy young family.
A short time into her employment, she was left with the family's infant, despite having no training in the care of children. The baby began to choke and Rizana didn't know what to do. She called for help and called her bosses to no avail. After attempting to save the child, the youngest member of the Khalaf family perished.
And when the life of baby boy Khalaf ended, Rizana Nafeek's life would slowly end as well.
Ms. Nafeek was immediately arrested for murdering the child. She was given neither a translator nor attorney, and was subjected to various kinds of police abuses. Eventually, she was beaten into signing a confession in a language that she could not read. The young woman was required to confess to strangling the baby in front of judges, who made entreaties to Mr. Khalaf to spare the girl's life. In Saudi Arabia, the father of a child can grant a pardon for acts committed against him or her, but in this case there was no changing this dad's mind. Rizana Nafeek was subsequently sentenced to death for unintentional homicide. It was only after international appeals that Ms. Nafeek was given legal representation, but it was far too late. Arab media was instructed to report that the Sri Lankan girl had poisoned the child of a Saudi national and that the penalty was just.
The plight of a young woman claiming her innocence did come to international attention. A year after I published my first piece, a BBC correspondent visited the home of Rizana's family, where her age was confirmed by birth and school records. The fact that Saudi Arabia intended to execute someone for an alleged crime committed as a minor was confirmed and pressure from groups like Amnesty International started to mount.
Sadly, despite all efforts, Rizana Nafeek was beheaded this morning, one month shy of her 25th birthday. Her father has been hospitalized and mother has become mute due to the heartbreak of losing their eldest child. The Saudi Interior Ministry's newest story is that Rizana smothered the baby after an argument with her boss.
The state of foreign workers in Saudi Arabia is deplorable, to be sure. It's estimated that only 10% of such workers are even covered by labour laws. Women are considered to have fewer rights than cattle, treated and traded as possessions. It's a nation where octogenarians marry children and a man can be declared insane for wanting to marry a Jew. Saudi Arabia is a country that executes people not just for crimes they have not committed, but for actions that are not criminal. There is no presumption of innocence, no reasonable doubt, no legal rights for any female whatsoever, let alone an "inferior" Sri Lankan.
Did Rizana Nafeek actually kill a 4 month old baby? It's not highly likely, but nobody can ever how or why a young life ended in a nation where autopsies are illegal. Eye-for-an-eye, Abrahamic bloodlust made victims of an entire family, of a little place called Sri Lanka, which observed a moment of silence today for one of their own taken far too young.
So, what can us privileged folks in the West really do anyways? We need to stop being such oil-greedy jerks and rely on alternate power sources. The UN needs to sanction Saudi Arabia and the theocrats who stone rape victims and behead gays. We need to cut off their power at the source with a comprehensive embargo on anything Saudi. We need to yank out Western businesses and interests- everything from McDonald's to military bases. It's only by walking the walk and walking the money right out of that desert that the sheiks might have incentive to change their policies and absolutely reprehensible views of women, foreigners, non-Muslims, and poppyseed bagels.
Rizana Nafeek is not the first person to meet the sword in Saudi Arabia and she won't be the last woman murdered by a state controlled by myopic megalomaniacs. If they don't change, and it's likely they won't, we must alter our desires.
Isn't the life of Rizana, or someone like her, worth an extra few cents a gallon?