Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, a mother who is Sudanese by birth, has been sentenced for apostasy and adultery, and could face death by hanging after her second child is born. She is currently heavily pregnant, and in prison, along with her 20-month-old son. The charge of “adultery” carries the punishment of a hundred lashes and is brought about because Meriam is married to a Christian. Thus her marriage is considered to be void under Sharia law. The charge of apostasy is because she is a Christian herself and not a Muslim.
The court in Khartoum reportedly gave her three days to recant her faith with a final ruling to be pronounced today, May 15th. She has been in prison since February 7th 2014 when she was arrested without a charge. She has not been given a fair trial.
Human rights groups around the world are appalled at the sentencing. Amnesty International’s Manar Idriss said that Meriam was a “prisoner of conscience” and that she should be released immediately. Idriss says that both adultery and apostasy should not be considered as crimes at all, let alone crimes of such seriousness that they would relate to a death penalty. Amnesty International opposes, without exception, the death penalty.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Meriam was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother, after her father, who was a Muslim, left when she was six years old. Because she was born in Sudan and to a Sudanese Muslim father, the court considers her to be Muslim also, by default. Meriam, a doctor by profession, “has never been a Muslim” says her husband.
The embassies of the US, the UK, the Netherlands and Canada in Khartoum have sent a combined statement to the government there. They are calling upon them to respect the right to freedom of religion. Not only is this enshrined in human rights law but it is part of the Sudan 2005 interim constitution. The embassies “urge Sudanese legal authorities” to “approach Ms Meriam’s case with justice and compassion.”
President Omar Hassan al-Bashir is renowned for his “iron fist” style of leadership. He came to power in a coup in 1989. He has said he wants to adopt a “100 percent Islamic constitution.” His government is in crisis since South Sudan seceded in 2011, taking all the oil revenues with them. His impositions of strict austerity measures has already caused clashes which have led to protests resulting in deaths and injuries.
Students have been protesting at the university in response to human rights abuses and as a result the university has been shut down “indefinitely.”
The facts are sparse about Meriam’s family. It is known that her husband, Daniel Wani, is not permitted to visit her or their son, Martin, because he is a Christian, He is therefore deemed not capable of caring for Martin. Daniel is South Sudanese with American citizenship. She is close to term with her second pregnancy and thought to be eight months. It is unclear what will happen to the children in the event of an execution. This would not be carried out until after the birth of the second child.
Wani is said to be from New Hampshire, and had applied for, but not received, a spousal visa for Meriam to live in the United States. He has appealed to the people and the government of the USA to help him.
Safwan Abdalmoniem, a human rights activist of Hardwired, said that a request had been submitted for Meriam to be transferred to a hospital, as she had been suffering some complications from her pregnancy, but this was declined. Instead, she was sent representatives from Munazzamat-al-Da’wa al-Islamiia (an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) to give her counseling. In other words, harassment to convert.
As the world remains, quite rightfully, up in arms about the abduction of the Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, there is no hashtag, as yet, for Meriam, yet time is running out. The embassies may have sent their reprimand to the Sudanese, but it is not very forceful.
Meriam Ibrahim should be released forthwith, allowed the freedom to practice her religion and allowed to be with her husband. To be sentenced to death for being a Christian, and married to a Christian man, is a violation of this Sudanese mother’s human rights.
By Kate Henderson