Four Western embassies have released a statement calling for the overturning of a death sentence for Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to death for “apostasy.” She is currently imprisoned with her 20-month-old son and is eight months pregnant.
“We call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 Interim Constitution,” the group said in a statement posted on the website of the United States Embassy in the capital, Khartoum. The statement also demands “justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people” and condemns a second sentence of 100 lashes for adultery.
Ibrahim’s sentence is based on the fact that her father, whom she did not know, was a Muslim. She was raised by her mother, a Christian, and has always practiced the Christian faith. The 27-year-old, who is eight months pregnant, married Christian Sudanese-American Daniel Wani, with whom she also has a twenty-month-old child, Martin. Sudanese law declares that all citizens with Muslim fathers must also be Muslims despite upbringing, so Ibrahim is legally considered Muslim, though she has never practiced that faith. The act of marrying within a Christian church is the basis of the court’s apostasy charge.
Sudanese Muslim women are not legally permitted to marry outside their faith, though men are and are permitted to convert their wives. As Ibrahim is considered Muslim, her marriage to Wani is legally invalid, and she was found guilty of adultery with Wani, despite their marriage. Ibrahim was arrested in August 2013 on these charges.
Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa’s sentencing sparked the interest of many in the area, inspiring a small group of peaceful protesters to stand outside the court with signs calling for religious freedom in Sudan. The judge addressed Ibrahim only by her father’s Muslim name while delivering the sentence. Ibrahim’s sole response was, “I am a Christian and I have not committed apostasy.” The protest group, the BBC notes, chanted, “No to executing Meriam” and triggered the response of a group supporting the execution, though they met without violence.
The BBC reports that the judge has declared that Ibrahim not be executed by hanging until two years after the birth of her second child. The extension would allow her to wean the newborn. Her attorneys have announced their intentions to appeal the death sentence to a higher court.