A year ago today, a blindfolded, white-clad Rizana Nafeek had her head chopped off in public in Dawadmy, near the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Rizana Nafeek, a Sri Lankan, was among the numerous foreign laborers routinely imported to Saudi Arabia for domestic work. There are an estimated 1.5 million migrant domestic workers in Saudi Arabia from South Asia (especially Sri Lanka), Nepal, Indonesia, East Africa, and the Philippines. Most are employed via the kafala (“sponsorship”) system that places their host in an almost lord-like position of authority.
Such workers are excluded from Saudi Arabia’s labor protections, and as a result stand vulnerable to horrifying abuse.* Household heads often confiscate these workers’ passports, and in some cases have subjected their domestic employees to rape, horrifying physical abuse, wage confiscation, and work weeks of 100-plus hours. One Sri Lankan woman had nails driven into her hands when she complained about overwork.
Rizana Nafeek hardly had time to find out whether any of these perquisites were in store for her. Not long after she arrived in Saudi Arabia in 2005 hoping to make enough money as a domestic drudge to move her impoverished family into a house, she had bottle-feeding duties for her host family’s infant foisted upon her. Nafeek had no training in caring for infants.
In May 2005, child child began choking while in Rizana’s care, and her panicked shouts summoned the mother. By the time the mother arrived, the infant had fallen unconscious, and the upset family immediately handed over their maid to the police, accusing her of strangling the baby.
This was the victim for whom Nafeek was decapitated, and also perhaps an illustration of tunnel vision in law enforcement. It’s quite doubtful whether there was ever any objective basis for supposing a homicide, but the fact that this was the color the family gave to events in the horror of the moment set in motion all the ensuing events.
During the investigation leading up to her 2007 trial and condemnation, Nafeek confessed to smothering the child — but she would later claim this confession was tortured out of her, and that the baby simply started choking on its bottle. (There was never a post-mortem on the dead baby.)
Opaque as the Saudi Arabian criminal justice system is, it’s got ample reputation for obtaining confessions by violence, and for mistreating migrant workers. And the accused had scant legal representation and no translator when she was tried for her life in a Saudi court.
After her conviction, it would also emerge that, order to land her the gig, Nafeek’s Sri Lankan recruiting agency falsified her papers to bump her age up past the legal minimum of 21. Rizana Nafeek arrived in Saudi Arabia carrying a passport that said she was born in 1982, making her 23 years old when she committed the supposed murder … but her birth certificate said that she was born in 1988, and was still a minor when the “murder” took place.
Noting that the dead infant’s family refused repeated blandishments of “blood money” to exercise its right to grant clemency, Riyadh officially “deplore[d] the statements made” by Rizana’s supporters “over the execution of a Sri Lankan maid who had plotted and killed an infant by suffocating him to death, one week after she arrived in the kingdom.”
More sympathetic Saudis, undoubtedly meaning well, offered Rizana Nafeek’s family cash compensation after the young woman was beheaded. That money, too, was angrily refused.
“I will not accept any gifts from the Saudis or the Saudi government which murdered my daughter,” mother Saiyadu Farina told a Sri Lankan newspaper. That anger was widely shared in Sri Lanka; Colombo even recalled its Saudi ambassador in protest.
That’s as may be, but money is sure to carry the argument at the end of the day. Wage remittances by overseas laborers are a massive boon to the island nation, amounting to $6.3 billion in 2012 — 8.8% of the Sri Lankan economy. And Saudi Arabia remains the single largest employer (pdf) of Sri Lankans abroad.
As of the time of Rizana Nafeek’s execution, at least 45 other foreign domestics, most of them Indonesians, were also awaiting execution on Saudi Arabia’s death row.
In Saudi Arabia, distinguished as the worldwide capital of beheading, a Pakistani named Mohamed Rafiq Myased and his daughter Abajan (or Apa-jan) were beheaded in Jeddah on this date in 2006 for smuggling drugs.
(Another Pakistani national lost his head in Jeddah 10 days later for the same crime; I’m uncertain whether the cases were related.)
On this date in 2010, a Saudi Arabian man named Mohsen al-Dossary or al-Dussari was beheaded in Riyadh for having shot dead a police officer in nearby Kharj who tried to stop him driving the wrong way on a street.
That’s some costly road rage.
Islamic sharia law provides the victim’s family the right to pardon an offender and stop an execution; implicit in that right is the need for the offended family to make a legally supportable determination to withhold pardon in order for an execution to proceed. In an interesting twist on that jurisprudence, the Saudi Press Agency reported that al-Dossary had to wait several years in prison while the policeman’s sons grew to majority and could legally consent to having the murderer put to death.
He was asked to concoct a spell that would cause the officer’s father to leave his second wife.
According to the officer’s account Abdul Hamid agreed to carry out the curse in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (approximately £1,000).
He was beaten after his arrest and thought to have been forced to admit to acts of sorcery.
In a secret trial, where he was not allowed legal representation, he was sentenced to death by the General Court in Medina in March 2007.
Few details are available about his trial but he is reported to have been tried behind closed doors and without legal representation.
At the time of his arrest, English language Saudi daily The Saudi Gazette ran an article entitled Magic Maids which said that ‘we must face up to the threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes’.
RIYADH—A gay couple was beaded in a public execution Sunday [March 13, 2005] in Saudi Arabia after being convicted of killing a blackmailer. If they had been exposed as gay they could have been executed anyway.
Homosexuality is punishable by flogging, lengthy prison terms or death under Sharia Islamic law.
The Saudi Interior Ministry issued a statement Sunday announcing the execution. It said that Ahmed al-Enezi and Shahir al-Roubli, both Saudis, ran over Malik Khan in their car, beat him on the head with stones and set fire to his corpse “fearing they would be exposed after the victim witnessed them in a shameful situation”.
The term “shameful situation” is regularly used by the government to refer to homosexual acts.
The ministry said the two men were executed in the northern town of Arar, near the Iraq border.
The Saudi government routinely rounds up people suspected of being gay. All that is needed is a complaint from someone. In some instances men who are not gay who have been arrested were picked up on the complaint of a neighbor following a dispute.
The kingdom also, on a number of occasions, has blocked access to the only gay Arab news and information site on the internet.
Hassan bin Awad al-Zubair, a Sudanese national, was not fortunate enough to have a television audience and months of publicity. Amnesty International thinks that neither he nor his family was even aware that he was death-sentenced until that sentence was actually executed.
The Saudi Interior Ministry statement on this surprise beheading explained that he had asserted the power to heal the sick and “separate married couples.” (Maybe he should have been a television personality after all.)
On this date in 2010, Saudi Arabia carried out its first execution of 2010, beheading Salah ibn Rihaidan ibn Hailan Al-Johani for a reported rape spree in the Muslim holy city of Medina.
Al-Johani was convicted of four rape-robberies with a similar m.o.: pose as a taxi driver, then drive the female passenger to the outskirts of town and assault her.
The sex attacks were uncovered after an attempted rape — commonly referred to as the “Aziziyah girl case” — in 2005. The Aziziyah girl, a 19-year-old secondary school student, was with her sister-in-law heading for her uncle’s home at around 10 p.m. when they got into Al-Johani’s pickup.
As they came close to the uncle’s home, Al-Johani began driving around in circles, saying he was unsure of the location and then drove off at high speed. The two women became suspicious and the Aziziyah Girl threatened to throw herself out of the car if he did not stop.
Al-Johani ignored their demands, and the 19-year-old threw herself out of the car. She died immediately from her injuries. Al-Johani then threw out the other woman who sustained serious injuries.
Two men were beheaded in Riyadh on this date in 2009 for bizarrely causing a man’s death in an unarmed purse-snatching.
An Interior Ministry statement says Faisal bin Fahd and Bandar bin Abdullah first stole the Chinese man’s laptop bag while he was walking. When the man tried to catch up with them, he fell and died after hitting his head on the pavement.
The executions that several of the 21st century world’s more aggressive death penalty users coincidentally carried out a year ago today testify together to the enduring place (and variegated guises) of the headsman in modernity.
Three prisoners were reported killed in Jinan in China on Jan. 15, 2009.
Two were men who had been serving prison terms for separate crimes when they incurred a death sentence for a violent (though seemingly non-lethal) escape attempt.
Liu Junjie, 35, and Wang Bing, 31, broke out of the prison in Zibo City on December 8, 2007 as a truck was moving out of the prison gate, according to a statement from the Shandong Provincial High People’s Court.
They hit a prison worker and two policemen with iron bars and choppers as they forced their way out. They were later caught as they fled along a road.
Former cabbie Bo Lijun shared that fate for a series of thefts, rapes, and murders.
According to the court, Bo raped and suffocated a female barber on Oct. 23, 2002 in Dongying.
Bo attempted to rape a female passenger in a wooded area near Dongying on July 29, 2006. Although he abandoned the rape attempt, he clubbed her to death for fear she would inform the police, and he buried the body at the site.
Al-Ahmari was a minor when he was sentenced. The statement said his execution was delayed until he came of age.
62-year-old James Callahan suffered lethal injection in Alabama Jan. 15, 2009, after 26 years on death row for raping and murdering a Jacksonville State University student in 1982. Callahan
requested a last meal of two corn dogs, french fries and a Coke … spent the day visiting with family and spiritual supporters … receive[d] communion at 4:30 p.m.
Callahan’s will bequeaths to his son $36.42 from his prison account, a black and white Radio Shack TV, two watches, a Walkman, some headphones, a leather belt, two pairs of boots, one pair of Nike tennis shoes, food items and legal papers.
(This incident was not brought to our attention until after the post was already up, but in the peripatetic spirit of the entry, we thought it suitable to append.)
Perhaps the first pol executed by Islamists, Ahmed was once the spokesman for a faction in the Somali civil war. He was put to death for collaborating with the Ethiopians who invaded Somalia at U.S. behest. As the Ethiopians were Christian, this behavior qualified as “apostasy” to the militants’ sharia court.
In January 2009, Ethiopia was in the process of withdrawing its military presence in its war-torn neighbor.
On this date in 1817, the last ruler of the first state established by the Al Saud who rule the modern state of Saudi Arabia lost his head to the Ottoman Sultan.
The Ottoman state and its (largely independent) vassal Egypt begged to dispute the Wahhabi tribe’s authority in the Arabian peninsula (and its proclivity for raiding Ottoman caravans) and made war on the House of Saud throughout the 1810′s.
We pick up the action from the third-hand, well-after-the-fact reports of the London Times. This, printed on Jan. 16 1819 under the “German Papers” heading:
FROM THE TURKISH FRONTIERS, DEC. 16.
The last victory over the Wechabites puts an end to the war at once. Ibrahim Pacha, who commanded the Turkish army, sends the captive Abdallah to Constantinople, but he first had his head shaved, and all his teeth pulled out.
On Feb. 6, the Times channeled the Dutch and Flanders mail:
Intelligence from Constantinople, dated the 24th December, states, that the Chief of the Wechabites, Abdallah, and his Iman, were brought prisoners into that capital on the 16th of the same month. After being led, in chains, through the principal streets, they were taken to prison and put to the torture. On the following morning, they were brought before the Sultan and beheaded. Their naked bodies were exposed during three days, and then delivered to the populace.
In addition to Abdullah himself, this affair finished off the city of Diriyah as a Saudi capital.