'Help, my sister is stuck in a Saudi prison'

Paulina Wanjiru Ndung’u Saudi Arabia

A photo of Paulina Wanjiru Ndung’u. She is serving a 17-year jail term in Saudi Arabia. 

Photo credit: Courtesy | Paulina Wanjiru Ndung’u

What you need to know:

  • In 2019, Wanjiru was jailed for 17 years after being accused of practising black magic.
  • However, her family does not know much about the case beyond that. 
  • They are hoping to get pro-bono legal representation for their relative. 

When they heard Paulina Wanjiru Ndung’u had been jailed for 17 years in Saudi Arabia for black magic, some of her family members' initial reaction in Mbegi, Gilgil, was to keep the development a secret from everyone back in Kenya. However, for her sister Mary Wairimu, keeping the secret from their mother was weighing her down. 

Black magic is considered a serious crime in Saudi Arabia, a country where publicly observing any religion besides Islam is forbidden. Foreign workers, including Kenyans, who are unfamiliar with the law can fall afoul of the law.

The circumstances under which Wanjiru was convicted of the crime are still unclear because neither the family nor Nation.Africa has seen the court documents touching on her case. 

Eventually, Wairimu gave in to pressure after her mother kept asking why Wanjiru was not calling her anymore.

“Since she travelled, she made it a habit to call home, assuring us that she was well and continuing with her domestic duties," says Wairimu.  

When they finally told her, the family was torn apart. Now, they don’t know who to turn to for comfort, even as they hold out hope that Wanjiru, 45, can be rescued from Marazi Prison in Riyadh.

Mary Wairimu

Ms Mary Wairimu. Her sister was handed a 17-year jail term by a Saudi Arabian court. 

Photo credit: Macharia Mwangi | Nation Media Group

“Since the jailing of my older sister, my mother’s life has never been the same. She is now on anti-depressants and suffers from high blood pressure,” she told Nation.Africa in an interview. 

Greener pastures

It all started in December 2017 when Wanjiru travelled to Saudi Arabia in search of greener pastures. She had secured a job as a domestic worker and was keen to build a better life for her mother and six siblings.

Wairimu says she was never comfortable with the idea after hearing tales of woes that had befallen some Kenyans who lived in the Arab country.

“I had my reservations, but my sister was adamant,” she says.

Wanjiru made her first visit back to Kenya in 2019 to a warm welcome from her family. She also brought them goodies and was upbeat about her continued stay in Saudi Arabia.

Her sister says she again expressed her reservations about going back to the Gulf region, but Wanjiru convinced them that all would be well, adding that her employer still owed her some dues.

"She argued that her employer owed her more than Sh500,000. I told my sister to look for ways of getting the cash without travelling back, but she refused,” she recalls.

Doomed return

Eventually, her sister flew back to Riyadh in what turned out to be a doomed voyage. In 2019, she was jailed for attempted murder after being accused of trying to poison her employer's food. However, the family does not know much about the case beyond that. 

“The details about the case are scanty. As a family, we have not been able to establish what exactly transpired. We are appealing to the Kenyan embassy to come to our rescue,” pleads Ms Wairimu.

Her sister’s children, she confirms, have dropped out of school because she was the one paying for their education.

“I don’t know if we can get legal representation. We are groping in the dark,” she continues.

Her friend Susan Njoki Njoroge recently returned to the country after sharing the same jail with Wanjiru. 

“I was jailed for six months for lack of legal documents and bumped into Wanjiru who narrated her story to me,” she says.

She managed to secure her own release and was sent by Wanjiru to deliver a message to her mother and siblings. 

“She is suffering mental anguish and just wants to return home,” says Wairimu, adding that she also has high blood pressure. 

She said efforts to get the inmate legal help had hit a snag.

“With legal representation, I am optimistic she may be able to secure release,” adds Ms Njoroge.

“I was able to read through her court papers and confirmed that she has actually been jailed slightly more than 17 years. My humble appeal is for the Kenyan government to come to her aid,” she adds.

The family now says that they are not making headway in pursuing the case and hopes to benefit from pro-bono representation. 

Wanjiru's family has also turned to social media platforms to highlight her troubles in hopes of getting help. 
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