On Thursday, May 15, Sudanese Christian Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to death by hanging for the crime of apostasy.
Ibrahim, a physician who graduated from the University of Khartoum Medical School, refused to renounce her Christian faith. The Islamist Khartoum regime claims that Ibrahim is a Muslim because her father, who abandoned the family when she was six years old, was a Muslim. Ibrahim, however, embraced for herself the faith of her Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother.
Independent Online noted that Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told Ibrahim, addressing her by her father’s Muslim name Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah:
We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death.
The judge reportedly instructed that her execution be carried out once the child has been weened but that she receive the 100 lashes for adultery soon after she gives birth. Morning Star News also reported that attorneys will file an appeal of the sentence on Sunday, May 18. This will put off execution of the sentence, including the flogging, until there is a ruling.
Ibrahim is married to Daniel Wani, an American citizen from South Sudan who came to the United States in 1998. She is in her ninth month of pregnancy with the couple’s second child. Their firstborn, Martin, 20 months, is imprisoned with his mother — Sudanese authorities prohibit the Christian man from caring for his son. Wani has been prevented from seeing his wife and child since she was arrested along with her toddler son, but reports that she has not received proper medical care for complications from her pregnancy.
According to Morning Star News, “Ibrahim’s nightmare has included denial of bail, insufficient medical care for both her and her unborn child, beatings in prison, and a U.S. Embassy that has offered little help.” Morning Star News added that a prison guard has mistreated Ibrahim and not allowed visitations or medical help, and Wani informed them that “a Muslim woman in the jail has incited other Muslims to make life difficult for her.”
As reported Wednesday, Ibrahim was also charged with adultery as her marriage to a Christian is not recognized under shariah law. As a result she was sentenced to be flogged before her execution. The draconian charges fall under Articles 126 (apostasy) and 146 (adultery) of Sudan’s Criminal Code which is based on Islamic law.
After her initial sentencing on May 11, Ibrahim was given three days by the court to renounce her Christian faith to avoid execution. In that time, during which she was repeatedly harassed by Islamic organizations sent by the court to “counsel” her on her faith, nothing has changed her mind. Middle East Concern reported Thursday that Ibrahim “calmly confirmed to the judge that she remains a Christian.”
Ibrahim and Wani were married in Sudan in December 2011. Soon afterwards Wani began the process of applying for a spousal visa to bring his bride to the safety of the United States, but he still had not received the visa when Ibrahim was arrested and charged with adultery in August 2013. According to Amnesty International, a distant relative reported her to the authorities. The court added the further charge of apostasy in February 2014 when Ibrahim asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim and provided them with her marriage certificate indicating her Christian faith and the location of her wedding in a church in Khartoum.
Will the regime in Khartoum allow the execution to take place? Although many persons have been charged with apostasy, according the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the last known execution for the “crime” of not being a Muslim was when Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, leader of the Republican Party of Sudan, was executed. Taha was convicted for his political and religious beliefs, including his opposition to the imposition of Islamic Shariah in Sudan.
Amnesty International, describing the sentence as “truly abhorrent,” suggests writing letters to Sudanese authorities urging Ibrahim’s immediate and unconditional release “because she is a prisoner of conscience, convicted solely because of her religious beliefs and identity.” In addition, Amnesty says to call on the authorities “to repeal Articles 126 and 146 that criminalize apostasy and adultery respectively, in conformity with Sudan’s obligations under international human rights law” and “to abolish the punishment of flogging and the death penalty.”
It’s not likely that Sudan, an Islamist state governed by Shariah, which has numerous connections to global jihad, and was once home to Osama bin Laden, will take these suggestions under consideration; nevertheless, it is still a good idea to register one’s protest of such inhuman violations of international human rights and the God-given dignity of the human being. Sudanese human rights activist Hawa Salih has urged, “We still have to continue blaming and shaming this law until they re-open the case, and she is free.” Salih, a Darfuri who received the 2012 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, is also a former prisoner of conscience.
However, for United States citizens, the first priority must be to push our own government — Congress and the Obama administration alike — into action. It is unacceptable that the wife and mother of U.S. citizens be allowed to be put in this position, and every member of the U.S. Congress should be registering his protest directly with the Sudanese regime as well as with the U.S. State Department.
Andrew Bostom writes, “The Obama Administration State Department (notably the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum) has reacted with what can only be characterized as malevolent indifference to the plight of Meriam Ibrahim and her family — including her incarcerated 20-month-old toddler son, Martin, a U.S. citizen.”
On Thursday State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf released a statement that was almost word for word the tepid statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on May 13. “We understand that the court sentence can be appealed,” meekly says the State Department. Perhaps they need to be reminded of the following facts, omitted from their statement:
- This is the wife of an American citizen.
- Her toddler, also imprisoned, is an American citizen.
- Her unborn baby will be an American citizen.
Concerned citizens should also point out that the U.S. State Department, eager as it is to indiscriminately provide visas in some cases, has made it impossible for a Christian American citizen to bring his wife to the United States by not providing a spousal visa in a timely manner (nor, indeed, at all yet, as of this writing).
“I have tried to apply for papers to travel to the USA with my wife and child, but the American Embassy in Sudan did not help me,” Wani told Morning Star News.
In addition, Wani has revealed that the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum expressed “no interest” in helping the family when his wife was arrested, and that they have demanded a DNA test from Wani to prove he is the father of Martin before they will help the toddler. “I will have to take a DNA sample in Khartoum, then send it to the USA for testing,” Wani said. “I have provided wedding documents and the baby’s birth certificate, and doors were closed on his face. My son is an American citizen living in a difficult situation in prison.”
Even if Khartoum’s shariah court is not going to kill this young mother until her newborn is taken away from her, action should be taken as if death is imminent. The U.S. government must act now to reunite Ibrahim and her son with Wani and to bring the family back to the United States.
Ibrahim’s attorney said Thursday, “Meriam is very encouraged by the international support she is receiving from the international community. She hopes that people stand with her and her family until she gets her freedom.” Let’s push the U.S. government to make that happen.
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).