Saudi Arabia Reverses Decision To Stone Sri Lankan Maid To Death

In what appears to be a somewhat dubious victory for human rights, a Sri Lankan maid accused of adultery in Saudi Arabia has been spared death by stoning, to which she was sentenced last August. Instead of being stoned to death, the married mother-of-two will instead face a “short jail sentence.”

The Thomas Reuters Foundation reports that the unnamed Sri Lankan woman began working as a domestic helper in the Saudi Arabian city of Riyadh in 2013. Earlier this year, she and another Sri Lankan migrant worker were accused of an extramarital affair. Although the man was not married at the time, the woman was, and both were accused and convicted of adultery.

Saudi Arabia operates under the often brutal tenets of Sharia law. According to a report from Newsweek, offenses like rape, murder, apostasy, and adultery all carry the death penalty, and Saudi Arabia had already executed a record 151 people in 2015 as of November, with more than a month left in the year.

The New York Times reports that in this case, both parties to the extramarital affair were Sri Lankan nationals living in Saudi Arabia as migrant workers. The man was not married, and he received a punishment of 100 lashes. The Sri Lankan maid was a married mother-of-two, and her sentence was more dire. When originally convicted last August, she was sentenced to death by stoning.

Saudi Arabia United Nations Saudi Arabia is the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council. [Photo by Michael Nagel/Getty Images]The sentence created international outcry, and Sri Lankan officials protested the decision to stone the maid to death, suggesting that the woman was not provided adequate legal counsel at the time of her trial. According to the BBC, the Sri Lankan government claims it was only informed of the situation after the maid had already been convicted in August of 2015, despite the fact that she was arrested in 2014.

The BBC also reports that the woman was provided with a translator, but not with a lawyer, at the time of her arrest and trial. Ranjan Ramanayake, an official from the Sri Lankan government, told the BBC that this may have led directly to the woman’s conviction.

“Islamic Sharia law says four respected Muslims need to be eyewitnesses for this type of case, but this has not been possible in this case,” Ramanayake told the BBC. “Unfortunately, not knowing the law, she has confessed under pressure without any legal help.”

Under international pressure, and after requests from the Sri Lankan government, Saudi Arabia agreed to reopen the case earlier this month. According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, Sri Lankan Deputy Foreign Minister Harsha de Silva vowed to provide the maid with adequate legal support this time around.

“Through our intervention, they (Saudi Arabia) have agreed to reopen the case,” de Silva told the Sri Lankan Parliament. “This can be considered a big victory. We will provide her with legal counsel and bear all the costs for legal counsel.”

The case was subsequently sent back to the provincial court where it was originally heard, and the Sri Lankan maid was spared a death by stoning. However, that wasn’t the end of it. While the sentence of death by stoning was overturned, the 45-year-old mother and wife will still have to serve a short jail sentence according to Al Jazeera.

Sri Lankan woman There are hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]The term of the jail sentence is reportedly three years, according to the New Delhi Times, which seems to stretch the definition of short. Sri Lanka is still calling this a victory, but the small nation is still working to slow, or even stop, the flow of female migrant workers from Sri Lanka to Saudia Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is currently the chair of the United Nations Human Rights council.

[Photo by Zurijeta/Shutterstock]