Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Saudi beheads Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek defying calls for stay

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia beheaded a Sri Lankan maid on Wednesday after she was convicted of murdering her employer's baby, drawing sharp condemnation from Colombo which had repeatedly urged a stay of execution.

Human rights groups too expressed condemnation, noting that Rizana Nafeek had been just 17 at the time of the offence and that Saudi Arabia was just three countries in the world to impose the death penalty for crimes committed as a minor.

Nafeek was found guilty of smothering the infant to death after an argument with the child's mother, her employer, the Saudi interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.

She was beheaded in the Dawadmi province near the capital Riyadh.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the execution while lawmakers observed a minute's silence during Wednesday's sessions as parliament was told the execution went ahead even as Colombo tried to send a delegation to Saudi Arabia to plead for mercy.

"President Rajapakse and the government deplore the execution of Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally," the ministry said.

Rajapakse had made another appeal for the maid's life last week.

Human Rights Watch said that Nafeek, who was only 17 when the child died in 2005, had retracted "a confession that she said was made under duress, and says that the baby died in a choking accident while drinking from a bottle."

Public execution in Saudi Arabia
"In executing Rizana Nafeek, Saudi authorities demonstrated callous disregard for basic humanity as well as Saudi Arabia's international legal obligations," the New York-based watchdog's senior women's rights researcher, Nisha Varia, said.

HRW "opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and finality," the watchdog said. "Given the possibility of mistakes in any criminal justice system, innocent people may be executed."

This is the second execution of the year in Saudi Arabia after a Syrian was beheaded on Tuesday for drug trafficking.

Last year, the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom beheaded 76 people, according to an AFP tally based on official figures. HRW put the number at 69.

Rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking are all punishable by death under its strict version of sharia, or Islamic law.

Source: Agence France-Presse, January 9, 2013

Sri Lankan maid Rizana Nafeek executed in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has executed a Sri Lankan domestic worker for killing a baby in her care in 2005, a foreign ministry official in Colombo has told the BBC.

The maid, Rizana Nafeek, had denied killing the 4-month-old boy.

Her supporters say she was only 17 at the time of the killing. They say her execution is a breach of international child rights.

The Sri Lankan parliament held a minute's silence on Wednesday in honour of Ms Nafeek.

News of the execution came on the same day that the International Labour Organization (ILO) said that laws were needed "urgently" to give greater protection to domestic workers.

The ILO report estimates that only about 10% of all domestic workers - about 5.3 million people - are covered by labour laws to the same degree as other workers.

In Sri Lanka itself, the execution has rekindled debate about the safety of expatriate workers in the Middle East and about the poverty which drives people including Ms Nafeek to seek work abroad.

In a statement, the Sri Lankan foreign ministry said that President Rajapakse and the government deplored the execution "despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally".

Translation problems

A Sri Lankan MP who campaigns for Sri Lankan workers abroad, Ranjan Ramanayake, described the Saudi government as "dictators" who would never execute Europeans or Americans, only Asians and Africans.

The parents of Ms Nafeek had repeatedly appealed to King Abdullah to pardon her. Her father is currently in hospital, officials, say, and her mother is too distressed to talk about the execution.

Correspondents say that it appears that employment agents falsified Rizana Nafeek's age so that she could work in Saudi Arabia Ms Nafeek was convicted in 2007 of murdering 4-month-old baby Naif al-Quthaibi, whom she was caring for in 2005.

She said that an initial confession was made under duress and without linguistic assistance. Supporters say that she also had no access to lawyers before her conviction.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have criticised the Saudi authorities for their handling of the case, as have campaigners in Sri Lanka, who argue that there were also serious translation problems at the time she confessed to the crime.

They argue that her reported execution breaches the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Saudi Arabia has ratified.

"Saudi Arabia is 1 of just 3 countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children," said senior HRW women's rights researcher Nisha Varia,

"Rizana Nafeek is yet another victim of the deep flaws in Saudi Arabia's judicial system."

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Sri Lanka visited Ms Nafeek's home village in 2010, where he saw a school register and a birth certificate confirming her date of birth.

Our correspondent says that if the documents are genuine, she was a minor when the alleged offence was committed. It also appears that employment agents falsified her age in order for her to get work in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi interior ministry said that Ms Nafeek was beheaded for smothering the infant after an argument with the child's mother in the town of al-Dwadmi.

Source: BBC News, January 9, 2013

Saudi Charge Leading to Maid's Execution Was Wrong Says Asian Human Rights Commission

According to reports received, the Government of Saudi Arabia has executed Ms. Rizana Nafeek (9 January 2013) today. The embassy of Sri Lanka in Riyadh has confirmed this report.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to categorically state, that the singular responsibility for this innocent young Sri Lankan woman's death is upon the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksha. His office and the government led by him shamelessly neglected the life of this innocent Sri Lankan woman, who remained incarcerated aboard since May 2005. At the time when she was charged with the alleged crime, Rizana was only 17 years of age, and was soon sentenced to death by a Saudi court, in proceedings that the court held of which Rizana had no informed consent. The Government of Sri Lanka or the office of the President did nothing to save Rizana's life, despite calls for assistance from Rizana's family and from the global civil society. Passing off as concerns, the Government of Sri Lanka did nothing, except issuing valueless statements relating to this case.

All Sri Lankans should regard today as a day of shame.

Due to efforts by the AHRC, an appeal was filed and Rizana's execution stayed this far. Despite calls for help President Rajapaksha's government refused to pay at least the lawyers' fee for filing the appeal.

The law relating to forced confession in Saudi Arabia is criminally wrong. The AHRC had alerted the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights about this matter repeatedly. However even the High Commissioner failed to make an effective intervention to save the life of this innocent woman.

There is no doubt that the charge of murder against Rizana is wrong. The laws in Saudi Arabia fall short of universally accepted norms concerning investigation of crimes, most importantly in this case the failure to conduct of an autopsy upon the body of the deceased person, alleged to have been murdered by Rizana. None of the fair trial guarantees were observed when Rizana was tried in the Saudi court.

All Sri Lankans and virtually thousands of people across the globe who intervened trying to save Rizana must have received the news of her execution with shock. An estimated 1.8 million Sri Lankans currently work aboard, of which 45 % are women.

The AHRC expresses its deepest condolences to Rizana's family at this time of grief and shock. Despite the family doing their best to save Rizana's life, they received no support from their government to save Rizana

So long as there is a government that does not show any care for the rights of its people, similar tragedies will be repeated in Sri Lanka.

Source: asafeworldforwomen.org, January 9, 2013

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