Britain's Anger As Saudi Arabia Beheads Maid

Britain's Anger As Saudi Arabia Beheads Maid

Britain has condemned Saudi Arabia's beheading of a young Sri Lankan maid as "cruel and inhuman".

The Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, spoke out as shock and outrage over the execution escalated, with Sri Lanka withdrawing its envoy from the Gulf State.

The Saudi government announced on Wednesday that it had carried out the beheading of Rizana Nafeek after finding her guilty of the murder of a baby in her care.

She had been accused of smothering the youngster after an argument with the child's mother but always denied the charge.

The Gulf State went ahead with her execution even though it emerged later that she had been only 17 at the time.

Imposing capital punishment on a minor is widely viewed as being a breach of international children's rights codes.

In a statement Mr Burt said: "I condemn the execution of Rizana Nafeek in Saudi Arabia yesterday, despite the many appeals for her sentence to be commuted.

"The UK opposes all use of the death penalty as a matter of principle, whatever the crime committed.

"We also find the practice of beheading to be particularly cruel and inhuman. We continue to raise our concerns about human rights with the Saudi authorities, including its frequent use of the death penalty."

The European Union also expressed dismay. Baroness Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs head, said: "I am deeply dismayed by the information that Sri Lankan national Ms Rizana Nafeek was executed."

"The EU opposes the use of capital punishment in all cases and under all circumstances," she added.

Rizana Nafeek was accused of killing the four-month-old in 2005 and was put on death row after her trial in 2007.

The Saudis went ahead with the execution in the town of Dawadmy, near the capital Riyadh, despite global appeals to call it off.

Sri Lanka's president Mahinda Rajapaksa made a series of personal appeals to try to stop the execution and grant a pardon to the maid.

Afterwards the president issued a statement saying he and his government "deplored" the action.

Sri Lanka has now recalled its envoy to Saudi Arabia in protest.

Karunatilake Amunugama, secretary of Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry, said: "(This is) to show our displeasure for not hearing the government's appeal to save Rizana Nafeek. He (the envoy) has been recalled with immediate effect."

Saudi households are highly dependent on housemaids from African and South Asian countries. There have been reported cases of domestic abuse in which families mistreat their maids, who have then attacked the children of their employers.

Amnesty International, in a statement before the execution, said that it appeared Nafeek had no access to lawyers either during her pre-trial interrogation or at her trial in 2007.

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