Protesters demand to stop stoning of Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia

Caritas organizes programs to raise awareness of the risks of overseas domestic workers
Protesters demand to stop stoning of Sri Lankan maid in Saudi Arabia

Protesters in front of the U.N. office in Colombo demand the release of a 45-year-old Sri Lankan domestic worker who was sentenced to death by stoning in Saudi Arabia. (Photo by Quintus Colombage)

Protesters in Colombo are demanding the release of a Sri Lankan domestic helper in Saudi Arabia sentenced to death by stoning for adultery.

Father Paris Jayamaha, director of Caritas Anuradhapura, also has condemned the conviction.

Activists urged Saudi authorities to pardon the 45-year-old Sri Lankan, a mother of three working in Riyadh since 2013. They protested outside the United Nations head office and the Saudi embassy in Colombo on Dec. 3.

A Saudi court sentenced the domestic worker to be stoned to death for committing adultery in August. The Sri Lankan man in the alleged relationship who is single was sentenced to 100 lashes.

"She went to Saudi to solve the economic hardships faced by her family," said Stella Philip, a human rights defender from the Women and Media Collective.

"We urge the Saudi authorities to respect human dignity," she said.

In 2013 Saudi Arabia beheaded Rizana Nafeek, a 24-year-old domestic worker for the death of a four-month-old infant in the house she was working in. Nafeek was 17 years old at the time of her employment and had traveled to Saudi Arabia on forged papers that stated she was older.*

Before her execution, Nafeek retracted her confession that she said was made under duress. The infant died from choking while feeding from a bottle, she said.

Father Jayamaha who works with migrant workers said Caritas has organized more than 85 awareness programs for villagers on safe migration with the help of the Bureau of Foreign Employment.

"We discourage those who intend to go abroad as domestic workers," he said.

Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri who attended the demonstration in Colombo said migrant domestic workers are vulnerable even though they bring in the bulk of foreign revenue to the country.

Sri Lanka's central bank reports that 279,952 nationals went to work in Persian Gulf countries in 2014, making more than US$7 billion in remittances to the country.

Devasiri said Sri Lankans should keep fighting for her immediate safe return to the country and pointed out that poverty stricken women often take huge risks working abroad.

"The government should ensure that our workers are treated and respected as human beings," said Devasiri, head of the history department at Colombo University.

*This paragraph has been corrected and updated.

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