– Sunday Times 8th November 2009
By Malik Gunatilleke
The execution of two Sri Lankans in Saudi Arabia this week has once again raised concerns that Sri Lankans working overseas do not have adequate legal representation when they get into trouble and are convicted for offences.
The two Sri Lankan nationals were beheaded on Wednesday in Jeddah , Saudi Arabia , after being convicted for theft and murder in 2007. The crime is said to have taken place in November 2005. It is alleged that a group of 12 armed persons, including seven Sri Lankans, had robbed and murdered a Saudi woman. Judgement was passed in June 2007, and two Sri Lankans, K. M. S. Bandaranaike and Haleema Nissa Cader, were sentenced to death. Muhammed Naushad Barmil, an Indian national and the husband of Haleema Nissa Cader, was also sentenced to death.
Five other Sri Lankans convicted in connection with the robbery and murder were handed five-year sentences along with 500 lashes. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the defendants had no legal representation during the trial and that the court case was conducted in Arabic, with the accused understanding little or nothing of the court proceedings.
Foreign Employment Bureau deputy director P. G. Yapa told the Sunday Times that the two executed Sri Lankans were registered with the bureau and that they had been given legal assistance by way of document translations.
“We made several appeals to the Saudi authorities, but all our appeals were rejected, with no reasons given,” Mr. Yapa said. “We did all we could for the families concerned.” Mr. Yapa said the bureau had also facilitated in flying a family member to Saudi to meet the accused, as well as covering the cost of bringing back to Sri Lanka the child of one of the victims.
The Saudi authorities had made no attempt to inform the Sri Lanka government, the families of the accused, or the media about the date of the execution. Mr. Yapa said this was the usual practice in Saudi Arabia . “Once a person is sentenced, there is a period for appeal, and after that the Saudi authorities will execute the accused without informing any of the relevant authorities or family,” he said.
The deputy director of the Consular Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ministry was not obliged to make appeals on behalf of Sri Lankans convicted overseas, but had done so in this instance through the Attorney-General. He confirmed that the ministry’s appeals were rejected by the Saudi authorities, and that no further action would be taken on the matter.
“Apart from this case, there are many other Sri Lankan nationals convicted in Saudi Arabia , while hundreds have been charged for brewing illicit liquor. There’s very little we can do, especially in a case where the defendants have already made a confession,” he said.
According to Amnesty International (AI), which condemns executions, the confessions of the accused in the Saudi case were probably obtained under duress during police interrogations. AI said the accused persons had had no legal representation throughout their imprisonment and trial.
According to AI, 321 people have been executed in Saudi Arabia since 2007, 134 of them foreign nationals. At least 106 foreign nationals are awaiting the death penalty out of a total of 137 convicted persons.