COLOMBO: Saudi authorities have agreed to retry a Sri Lankan housemaid sentenced to death by stoning for adultery, her country’s deputy foreign minister said yesterday. Harsha de Silva told parliament in Colombo the government had secured a fresh trial for the woman after Sri Lankan diplomats visited her in a Saudi jail over the weekend. “Through our intervention, they (Saudi authorities) have agreed to reopen the case,” de Silva told parliament.
“This can be considered a big victory. We will provide her with legal counsel,” he added, without elaborating on the grounds for a retrial. The woman, a 45-year-old married mother of two who has not been named, was convicted of adultery in August. She was sentenced to death by stoning, while an unmarried Sri Lankan man convicted alongside her was sentenced to 100 lashes. Sri Lankan lawmakers from all parties have united in urging the government to secure clemency for the woman and a pardon for the man.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera met the Saudi envoy to Colombo last week and expressed concern over the case, which has sparked calls for a ban on Sri Lankan women travelling to Saudi Arabia for domestic work. There were similar calls in 2013 when Saudi Arabia beheaded a Sri Lankan woman convicted of killing a baby in her care in 2005, when she was 17 years old. Sri Lanka’s Muslim minority on Monday appealed to Saudi King Salman to intervene and pardon the couple. Under the conservative kingdom’s strict Islamic sharia legal code, murder, armed robbery, rape, adultery, drug trafficking and apostasy are all punishable by death.
In another development, Saudi Arabia yesterday executed a convicted Pakistani heroin smuggler, adding to a toll which rights group Amnesty International says is the kingdom’s highest in two decades. The ministry of interior said Khan Iqbal was put to death in the holy city of Makkah for smuggling a large amount of heroin in his intestines. According to AFP tallies, Iqbal is the 149th local or foreigner put to death this year, against 87 for all of 2014. London-based Amnesty says the number of executions in Saudi Arabia this year is the highest since 192 people were put to death in 1995.
The toll has rarely exceeded 90 annually in recent years, it said. Reasons for the surge are unclear. Over the last few weeks, however, there has been a marked drop in executions, all of which are reported by the official Saudi Press Agency. Rights experts have raised concerns about the fairness of trials in the kingdom and say the death penalty should not be applied in drug cases. Last month the European Union issued a statement saying a number of people had been put to death recently in Saudi Arabia after convictions for drug trafficking. “The European Union is opposed to capital punishment in all cases and without exception,” it said.- Agencies