Mariem Yahya Ibrahim, the 27-year old Sudanese Christian doctor who was sentenced to death for apostasy, gave birth to a baby girl in Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum on May 27, 2014. The baby, the daughter of Ibrahim and her husband, South Sudanese naturalized American citizen Daniel Wani, may be the first American citizen to be born in a Sudanese prison.
With the birth of the baby, Ibrahim now has two years to live before she will be hanged for apostasy, according to the ruling of Judge Abbas Al Khalifa of the Khartoum Criminal Court. Even more imminent is the implementation of her other sentence, 100 lashes for the crime of adultery. Ibrahim was charged with adultery because her marriage to Wani is not recognized under Shariah.
Various members of the U.S. Congress are making efforts on Ibrahim’s behalf. U.S. Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry requesting that Ibrahim and her first-born child, Martin, who is 20 months old, be given political asylum immediately. If given asylum they would be able to accompany Wani back to his adopted home in Manchester, New Hampshire. U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a longtime advocate for human rights and religious freedom, echoed the senators’ request in a House floor speech. In addition, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, along with Chairman of the Subcommittee on African Affairs Chris Coons (D-DE), Committee Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) on May 21 introduced legislation condemning Ibrahim’s death sentence and calling for “her immediate and unconditional release from prison.”
Response from the State Department has ranged from woefully inadequate to outrageously negligent. Statements from State and the White House have expressed “deep concern” and appealed to Khartoum’s better angels to “show compassion” and release Ibrahim. But long before this point, the U.S. State Department failed this family – the family of an American citizen. Soon after Ibrahim and Wani were married in December 2011, Wani applied for a spousal visa to bring his wife to the United States. This has still not been received. When Ibrahim was first arrested and incarcerated in February, he appealed to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum for help but received none. The U.S. Embassy has informed him that they cannot assist him in gaining custody of his son, Martin, without a DNA test.
Now that Ibrahim has given birth, the clock is ticking towards her execution for her refusal to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ, a faith in which she was raised by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother and which she has embraced for herself. And now there is another tiny American citizen in a Sudanese prison. Both Ibrahim and her toddler son Martin have experienced poor health in the prison, but this is even more hazardous for a newborn.
On May 26 when Ibrahim went into her labor, Safwan Abd Almonaiem of Hardwired reported that, according to her lawyer, since the director of Omdurman prison was unavailable, the prison’s administrators refused to allow Ibrahim to go to the hospital. Unless the situation changed before she gave birth, she was therefore forced to deliver from the clinic in the prison in extremely poor conditions. The clinic, says Ibrahim’s lawyer, is without the most basic equipment, “let alone anything to assist” in the case of a complicated labor.
Interest and outrage have increased with awareness of what the Islamic government of Sudan is doing to Mariem Yahya Ibrahim. On May 23, Fox News host Greta Van Susteren interviewed Daniel Wani from Khartoum by Skype. Van Susteren, who has been following the crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated by the Khartoum regime for several years, emphasized the evil of Sudanese President Omar al Bashir. She is correct, but at this point interest and outrage need to be focused on the U.S. government. The Obama Administration needs to be pressed to grant immediate political asylum to Ibrahim. In addition, more members of the U.S. Congress should join those who are already working towards this end and demand that Khartoum release immediately the wife and family of an American citizen.
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).