Meriam Ibrahim, the woman under sentence of death and incarcerated in Khartoum for the “crime” of being a Christian and married to a Christian man, has given birth to a baby daughter; she did so with her legs shackled to the floor. The little girl, named Maya, was born one week before her due date and, remarkably, is fit and well. With reluctance, the prison authorities allowed Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen, in to see his wife and newborn. He was also permitted access to see their first child, Martin, age 20 months, who is held in captivity with his mother. The visit gave the tragic couple a few, rare moments of happiness and respite together.
Ibrahim was temporarily unlocked from her chains during the brief contact with Wani. She has been wearing them for the past four months, while she is held in the filthy conditions of the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison. They were not released during her labor, a fact that has angered Daniel. He said that she too was “very unhappy about it.” It is known that Ibrahim was unwell in the final stages of her pregnancy, but the specifics are unknown, since she was not allowed to see a doctor. Given the terrible conditions she is held in, it is truly a miracle that little Maya was born healthy.
Ibrahim has been sentenced to hang, because she has refused to renounce her Christianity and convert to Islam. The sentence will be carried out after she has weaned Maya. There is no actual date set, but it is expected to be in the next two years. Meantime, her lawyer, Mohaned Mustafa Elnour, and her husband, will do everything in their power to fight the injustice. Elnour, who accompanied Wani into the jail, said the couple had experienced pride and happiness at the birth of their daughter, but it was only a moment of light in an otherwise dreadful situation.
Wani is a 27-year-old biochemist from Manchester, New Hampshire, the same age as his wife. He suffers from muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair. He had returned to Khartoum to try to reverse the verdict on his wife and gain visas for them all to return with him to live in America. Martin, the older boy, requires a DNA test before the U.S. Embassy will accept he is Daniel’s son. Under Sharia law, Martin is deemed to be muslim and cannot be released into his father’s care. Like his mother, he has been ill whilst in prison. Neither of them have been getting proper food, and the sanitation is dire. Human Rights Watch has drawn attention to the deaths of children in that prison who are kept with their mothers, and they say it is “beset with overcrowding” and riven with disease.
Five hundred guests attended Wani and Ibrahim’s wedding in December 2011, but none of them have been allowed to testify to the couple’s strong faith, because they too are Christian. When Ibrahim was arrested last September, she was three weeks pregnant with Maya. At first, they were not too worried and thought they could easily overturn the charges. Then the state came up with a woman who claimed to be Ibrahim’s mother and two men claiming to be her brothers. Elnour, who has received death threats for representing the victim, explains that these three witnesses have given highly contradictory statements, and he believes their ulterior motive is to take possession of Ibrahim’s successful general store in a Khartoum shopping mall. Elnour has proof that Ibrahim’s real mother died in 2012. She was an Ethiopian Christian who had fled to Sudan to escape the famine, and she raised her daughter in the Christian faith. She is now deceased. Ibrahim’s biological father left the refugee camp when she was six, never to be seen again. Due to her father being a muslim, this is what will determine Ibrahim’s faith and fate.
Wani speaks of his wife with great pride when he recounts her bravery in the courtroom. He says he had tears streaming down his face as she received a death sentence, yet she stayed strong. She refused to renounce her faith to save her own life. Her words to her husband were “I need to be true to myself.” He broke down, he recalls, but she did not even flinch.
Even now, he says, she is capable of putting on a brave face. He hates to see her having to walk in chains, and he knows she is in a lot of pain, sometimes not leaving her cell for weeks at a time. Their marriage is said to be null and void. The authorities tell Daniel the children are not his. He has to immerse himself in paperwork for the appeal to keep himself from despair.
There is a petition calling for Ibrahim’s release on the Amnesty International website. She is also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery. Wani said that his wife is aware that news of her plight had reached the outside world, and she is grateful for it and wishes to thank people. She hopes they will continue to pressure the Sudanese government and that her brutal sentence can be reversed. The Times has reported that what is happening to Ibrahim is “global outrage.” To give birth, in chains, on a filthy prison floor is an ordeal no woman should have to endure. It is humbling that despite the horror of the circumstances, this couple can still rejoice in their beautiful little girl.
By Kate Henderson