Saudi Arabia criticized widespread condemnation of the beheading of a Sri Lankan maid convicted of killing her employer's baby. The Saudi official news agency noted that a spokesman said that the oil kingdom "deplores the statements made... 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." Rizana Nafeek was beheaded on January 9 despite widespread calls for clemency. Human rights groups said that she was just 17 years old when she was charged with murdering the baby in 2005. Nafeek was found guilty of smothering the Saudi infant after an argument with the child's mother.
The case soured diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka. The island nation recalled its ambassador to Saudi Arabia on January 10 as a sign of protest.
The Saudi government spokesman condemned what he called "wrong information on the case," and denied that Nafeek was a minor when she committed the crime.
"As per her passport, she was 21 years old when she committed the crime," said the spokesman, who added that "the kingdom does not allow minors to be brought as workers." The spokesman averred that the government had tried to convince the baby's family to accept "blood money" in lieu of capital punishment, noting that they rejected any amnesty and insisted that the maid be executed. He continued, saying that Saudi Arabia "respects... all rules and laws and protects the rights of its people and residents, and completely rejects any intervention in its affairs and judicial verdicts, whatever the excuse."
On January 11, the United Nations expressed "deep dismay" at the beheading, while the European Union said it had asked the Saudi authorities to commute the death penalty. Human Rights Watch said Nafeek had retracted "a confession" that she said was made under duress, claiming the baby accidentally choked to death while drinking from a bottle.
Rape, homosexual acts, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are among the offenses punishable by death under Saudi Arabia's strict version of sharia, or Islamic law. Saudi Arabia beheaded 76 people in 2012, according to an AFP tally based on official figures, while HRW put the number at 69. The count for 2013, so far, is three beheadings.