Sudan is making an example of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim. Now it is up to the United States government and concerned citizens to make their response to Sudan’s treatment of Ibrahim an example – an example of effective, aggressive advocacy.
The disturbing news that the young, pregnant Christian sentenced to death last week for apostasy is now “bound with shackles on her legs” demonstrates how far the Islamic regime is willing to go to intimidate the increasing numbers of people of Sudan who have expressed their dissatisfaction by protesting against the government this past year.
Photo: Nuba Reports
Ibrahim, 27, was also sentenced to 100 lashes for committing adultery. The Shariah-based regime does not recognize her marriage to her husband, South Sudanese Christian Daniel Wani, a naturalized citizen of the United States. Wani, who is wheelchair-bound, finally saw his wife on Monday after not being allowed to see her since arriving in Khartoum from Manchester, New Hampshire. It was he who reported that Ibrahim was in shackles and her legs were swollen. It would seem that the Khartoum regime is going out of its way to make the nine-months-pregnant doctor as uncomfortable as possible.
One can only imagine the emotional trauma suffered by Ibrahim and Wani’s little boy, Martin. This 20-month-old, an American citizen by virtue of his father, is incarcerated with his mother. The Islamist regime will not give custody of his own child to an “infidel,” and the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum is demanding a DNA test proving Wani’s paternity before they will assist in any way.
At a Sudan briefing on May 20, sponsored by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) on Capitol Hill, witness Omer Ismail, a Darfurian activist and Senior Advisor for The Enough Project, stated that the treatment of Meriam Ibrahim “is part of the Government of Sudan’s intolerance of any dissent” and an attempt by Khartoum to show the Sudanese people that the government will impose Shariah whenever it wants.
A similar analysis was given by Rebecca Hamilton, a Columbia Law School professor and author of Fighting for Darfur, who said, “In this decision we see just how precarious life is for non-Muslims in Sudan. Even if international outrage ultimately leads to her pardon, the message to non-Muslims is clear: You are not safe here.”
However, the attempt to intimidate just seems to have fired up the Sudanese people. Another witness at the Capitol Hill TLHRC briefing was Ryan Boyette, the founder of Nuba Reports, an enterprise of citizen journalists to report swiftly and accurately on the atrocities and other human rights violations committed by the Khartoum regime. Nuba Reports had a journalist outside the courtroom during Ibrahim’s hearing. According to his report, while government supporters carried a banner that said, “Get out, go to Europe and leave this country,” supporters of Ibrahim, mostly young people, held signs reading, “The Death Sentence is a Violation of Humanity.”
The most impressive display of defiance came from Ibrahim herself. According to Nuba Reports, “Three times, the judge asked Mariam Yahya Ibrahim to recant her Christian faith and declare her belief in Islam. Three times, the pregnant 27-year-old Sudanese mother refused.” In addition, Ibrahim refused to answer the judge when he addressed her by an Arab/Muslim name.
Outside Sudan, reaction to Ibrahim’s death sentence has been uniform in opposition, but varying in degree. The U.S. Embassy in Khartoum joined with the Embassies of Great Britain, Canada, and The Netherlands to issue a statement of “deep concern,” urging the Sudanese government to approach Ibrahim’s case “with justice and compassion.” Likewise, the Department of State whipped out a boiler plate statement of concern that totally ignores the fact that this woman is the wife of an American citizen and that her toddler American citizen son, Martin, is with her in prison.
More strongly worded disapproval came from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). On May 16, USCIRF chairman, Dr. Robert P. George, said, “Mrs. Ibrahim should be released immediately and all charges dropped. This case and the sentencing are a travesty for religious freedom and human rights in Sudan.” Moreover, U.S. Representative Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), co-chair of the House International Religious Freedom Caucus on May 13 and then again on May 15 demanded that the State Department intervene on Ibrahim’s behalf.
Canada’s Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Dr. Andrew Bennett, also issued a statement on May 15 upon hearing the verdict. “Canada is shocked and appalled by the decision to impose a sentence of death for apostasy and of 100 lashes for ‘adultery’ in the trial of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a Christian mother expecting her second child,” said Bennett. He said he expected Sudan to act in keeping with “international human rights obligations.”
Members of the British Parliament, The Baroness Cox (Caroline), former Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords, and The Lord Alton of Liverpool (David), longtime advocates for religious freedom in Sudan, have also raised Ibrahim’s case. The MP’s have signed an online petition urging President Omar al Bashir to save Ibrahim’s life and are urging others to do the same. Another petition for Ibrahim has been created by the American Center for Law and Justice.
Letters to Secretary of State John Kerry concerning Ibrahim are now also making an appearance. On May 20, Dr. Russell Moore, the President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote to Kerry:
I encourage you to personally denounce the sentencing of Mariam Ibrahim as cruel and inhumane, to demand her release, and to use the diplomatic influence of the State Department to advocate for this most fundamental human right, the freedom of religion and belief.
The clearest directive so far has come in the form of a letter to Kerry from Senators Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) (R-MO) and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) (R-NH). On May 16, these senators urged Kerry to “provide political asylum to Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman.” Refreshingly, the letter also points out that Ibrahim is the wife an American citizen and that 20-month-old Martin is also imprisoned, something that many statements have failed to emphasize. The senators were joined enthusiastically by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA).
Concerned citizens who are wondering what they can do to try to help Ibrahim may wish to urge their own senators (and their representative, as well) to follow the example of Senators Blunt and Ayotte with a letter to Secretary Kerry demanding political asylum for this courageous young woman. Without sufficient pressure it is doubtful that the State Department will take any meaningful action on behalf of this Sudanese Christian. However, if concerned citizens demand it, we may yet see Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani raising their children in peace and freedom in New Hampshire.
Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).