At least 45 foreign maids are on death row in Saudi Arabia amid growing concerns over the treatment of the Gulf state’s migrant workforce, the UK's The Observer newspaper said.
The figure, based on estimates from human rights groups, comes several days after Saudi Arabia beheaded a 24-year old Sri Lankan housemaid for killing a child left in her care in 2005.
Rizana Nafeek was executed in Dawadmy, near the capital Riyadh, on Wednesday morning despite appeals by her home country against the death sentence.
Indonesian housemaids are believed to account for the majority of those facing the death sentence. Human rights groups said 45 Indonesian women are currently on death row, five of whom have exhausted the legal process, said The Observer.
Like many Gulf states, Saudi Arabia relies heavily on foreign workers to fill jobs at all levels of the economy but protection of migrant workers has become a serious issue following reports of poor working conditions and low pay.
Saudi Arabia temporarily placed a ban on recruiting workers from the Philippines and Indonesia after those countries sought to impose stricter employment conditions.
Nafeek was sentenced to death in 2007 after her employer accused her of killing his daughter.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s president had made several appeals against the decision, which was upheld by the Saudi Supreme Court in 2010.
“President Mahinda Rajapaksa made a personal appeal on two occasions immediately after the confirmation of the death sentence, and a few days ago to stop the execution and grant a pardon to Miss Rizana Nafeek,” said the ministry in a statement to Reuters.
“President Rajapaksa and the government of Sri Lanka deplore the execution of Miss Rizana Nafeek despite all efforts at the highest level of the government and the outcry of the people locally and internationally over the death sentence of a juvenile housemaid," it said.
A recruitment agency in Sri Lanka altered the birth date on Nafeek’s passport, changing her age from 17 years old to 23 years old so she could apply for work in Saudi Arabia, said Human Rights Watch. Sri Lanka later sentenced two recruitment agents to two years in prison for the falsification of Nafeek’s travel documents.
“Rizana was just a child herself at the time of the baby’s death, and she had no lawyer to defend her and no competent interpreter to translate her account,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Saudi Arabia should recognise, as the rest of the world long has, that no child offender should ever be put to death.”
The group condemned the execution. “Saudi Arabia is one of just three countries that executes people for crimes they committed as children,” said Varia. “Rizana Nafeek is yet another victim of the deep flaws in Saudi Arabia's judicial system.”