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A family in pain

Rizana Nafeek's family struggle to deal with what they consider to be a grave injustice against their daughter
Last modified: 15 Jan 2013 10:02

Life for the Nafeek family seems to have lost its meaning. 

Its eldest daughter Rizana was beheaded in Saudi Arabia. It was her punishment after being found guilty of murdering a four month old infant in her care. 

For her parents and younger siblings it ends seven years of waiting, desperately hoping for a pardon. They seem lost, not knowing what to do next. 

Fareen Nafeek, Rizana's mother, is distraught. She see-saws between despair that her daughter was a victim of a grave injustice, and a belief that she is still alive and will one day come home. 

The crippling poverty is obvious when I visit their home in Muttur in North East Sri Lanka.

"My child went abroad so that we wouldn't starve, so we could clothe and educate her younger brother and sisters," She says. 

The house consists of mud walls and a thatched roof; there is no running water. Parked in a nearby shed is a bullock cart which is the family's only means of income; Rizana's father gathers firewood for a living. 

Rizana was 17 years old when she left Sri Lanka, her passport altered by unscrupulous job agents to show she was 23. 

People I met in Rizana's village Muttur say this is a common with underage youngsters. Some speak of an under-aged neighbour who had made it across, encouraging others to do the same. 

The entire experience for the shy, soft spoken teenager must have been daunting. A new country, a language she did nor understand, a new environment, an employer who, according to her mother, mistreated her.

"My daughter was harassed and beaten. She was made to eat her meals in a toilet bowl."

The execution has drawn worldwide criticism, which has brought an angry response from the Saudi Kingdom. A government spokesman said Riyadh “deplores the statements made over the execution of a Sri Lankan made who had plotted and killed an infant by suffocating him to death.”

Her family rejects the verdict saying she was a victim of a grave injustice and punished for a crime she did not commit. "Rizana told me she was taken to the desert, beaten and told she could only return to Sri Lanka if she signed a confession," her mother said. 

Rizana had no idea that she was going to be executed. I try to understand the contrast between the premeditated killing claimed by her trial, and accounts of how she collected together a prison allowance she received and bought sweets and a blanket to send home to her family. 

A social worker who worked closely on the case says a textbook of errors saw justice denied to the teenager. She says Nafeek was forced to sign a confession in a language she did not understand, the translator was a casual worker whose native language was not Tamil which Rizana spoke, and most importantly, there was no recognition that she was a minor.

Activist say the Sri Lankan authorities should have done more to fight for Rizana. The government says it pursued all avenues to have Nafeek released from death row.  Back in her village most people don't accept this and are angry that she died in vain.

For her family, offers of help keep coming. But in flashes of stabbing reality her mother asks "What's the point of money or a better house if my child back is dead?"