Welcome news: Death row inmate Sudanese Christian Dr. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim may soon be released from her prison.
Ibrahim is jailed in Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum with her 20-month old son, Martin, and newborn daughter, Maya, under sentences of apostasy and adultery. Her marriage to South Sudanese Christian Daniel Wani is invalid in the eyes of the Sudanese legal system that considers Ibrahim, a lifelong Christian, to be a Muslim.
“The related authorities in the country are working to release Mariam (Yahya Ibrahim), who was sentenced to death for apostasy, through legal measures,” Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Abdelah Al-Azrak told Reuters that government authorities in the country are “working to release” her “through legal measures.”
Al-Azrak also told the BBC that Sudan “guaranteed religious freedom and was committed to protecting the woman.” Ibrahim’s team of attorneys, nor her husband, a naturalized American citizen, had not been advised of this development before the foreign ministry spoke the news agencies.
If true, this is a testament to the power of advocacy, as well as an answer to the prayers of many around the world. Trust and verify comes to mind. Too often, the U.S. government has trusted the promises and declarations of Khartoum, and while the U.S. has acted according to the “carrots” it has promised for good behavior, Khartoum’s failed to honor its promises. Hopefully, this is not the case with the pending release of Ibrahim. The U.S. offered no incentives to Khartoum to release Ibrahim, but her imprisonment drew international outrage. Khartoum felt the sting and decided that the reward of pardoning Ibrahim outweighs the approval of the hard-core Islamists who want her dead.
Ibrahim’s release will be only the beginning of the push to halt the draconian implementation of Sharia law. Advocates understand that they cannot relax the pressure on the Islamic Republic of Sudan.
Continued pressure is needed to ensure the safety of Dr. Ibrahim and her children — both American citizens by virtue of their father — of her husband and of her attorneys. Pressure is also needed on the other player, the U.S. State Department, to obtain the spousal visa that rightfully belongs to Dr. Ibrahim, or political asylum. And pressure is needed to convince the Khartoum regime to change the laws under which most of the people of Sudan are suffering.
Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s release will be only the beginning, but it will be a good beginning.
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).