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Sri Lankan officials await response in maid torture case

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Saudi authorities have not confirmed arrest of couple accused of torture
  • Maid is Sri Lankan; delegation from her country is in Saudi Arabia
  • Doctors remove 18 nails from maid's arms, legs, forehead
  • She was attacked after complaining of being overworked, officials say
  • Sri Lanka

(CNN) -- Despite reports that a Saudi couple accused of torturing a Sri Lankan housemaid was arrested, Saudi authorities have not verified the action, a Sri Lankan official told CNN.

The Saudi employer and his wife were reportedly arrested this week in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, after allegations they hammered nails into the maid's body, according to officials at the Sri Lankan External Affairs Ministry.

But two days later, "No one from the Saudi government has confirmed to us that they have been arrested," said Nimal Ranawaka, counselor for employment and welfare at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabian authorities could not be reached immediately for verification. The two suspects have not been named.

Doctors at a Sri Lankan hospital operated for three hours last week to remove 18 nails and metal particles allegedly hammered into the arms, legs and forehead of a maid by her Saudi employer.

Dr. Kamal Weeratunga said the surgical team in the southern town of Kamburupitiya pulled nails ranging from about 1 to 3 inches from Lahadapurage Daneris Ariyawathie's body. He said doctors have not yet removed four small metal particles embedded in her muscles.

"She is under heavy antibiotics but in a stable condition," Weeratunga said.

Sri Lankan officials, meanwhile, met with Saudi diplomats in Colombo to urge an investigation into the incident.

"It was cruel treatment which should be roundly condemned," said L.K. Ruhunuge of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.

He said the Sri Lanka government has forwarded to Saudi authorities a detailed report on the incident including statements from Ariyawathie.

Ruhunuge and two other officials arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi officials about the matter. The delegation arrived in Riyadh on Monday and will be in the country for another two days.

Ariyawathie left Sri Lanka on March 25 to work as a housemaid in Riyadh after the bureau registered her as a person obtaining a job from an officially recognized job agency.

She was held down by her employer's wife while the employer hammered the heated nails, Ruhunuge said. She apparently had complained to the couple that she was being overworked, Ruhunuge said.

The nails were hammered into her arms and legs while one was on her forehead, he said.

Several countries across the Middle East and Asia host significant numbers of migrant domestic workers, ranging from 196,000 in Singapore to about 1.5 million in Saudi Arabia, according to a report published earlier this year by Human Rights Watch.

Many of the domestic workers are poor Asian women from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Nepal. Widespread abuse has been documented by global human rights groups.

Common complaints include unpaid wages, long working hours with no time for rest and heavy debt burdens from exorbitant recruitment fees, said the Human Rights Watch report.

CNN's Iqbal Athas contributed to this report.