Sudan: Apostasy case attracts global condemnation

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A heavily pregnant woman has been sentenced to death in Sudan for renouncing Islam and marrying a Christian man.

A court sentence in Sudan ordering flogging and the death penalty for Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag has prompted an expression of “profound concern” from Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), who has urged President Omar Hassan Ahmad Al-Bashir to “prevent the implementation of this unjust and unconscionable sentence.”

Ishag, a 27-year-old Sudanese woman, was criminally charged for converting from Islam to Christianity and with committing adultery for marrying a Christian man, according to media reports.

According to human rights organisation Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mrs Ibrahim was born in western Sudan to a  Muslim father and a Christian mother. Her father left when she was six, so her mother raised her as a Christian. She married Daniel Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan who has US citizenship, in 2011.

In his May 23rd letter to President Al-Bashir, Dr Tveit expressed shock over the court’s decision. “Whether Mrs Mariam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag was born of Muslim parents or Christian parents, such a sentence runs counter to the letter and spirit of the Sudanese Constitution,” he said. According to the Sudanese constitution, he added, all citizens have the “right to the freedom of religious creed and worship.”

Tveit said that condemning Mariam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag violated a fundamental principle of international human rights law embodied in Sudan’s own constitution.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim hartoum gave birth to a baby girl in Omdurman Women’s Prison on May 27th, but her husband and legal team have reportedly been denied access to the new mother in prison, where she is being held in custody with her 20-month-old son.

Amnesty International said it had no information on her condition as yet.

Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy and adultery on May 11th, with a Khartoum court sentencing her to death by hanging at a later hearing on May 15th after she refused to recant her faith and revert to Islam. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for committing adultery as her 2012 marriage to husband Daniel Wani – a South Sudanese-born Christian man – is considered invalid under Sudan’s Islamic Shari’a law.

Despite being heavily pregnant, reports emerged that Ibrahim has been constantly restrained in shackles in her cell since her sentencing, a practice commonly used on prisoners who have been sentenced to death.

It is expected that Ibrahim will be allowed to nurse her child for two years before the sentence is carried out.

Amnesty said Ibrahim’s lawyers have confirmed that an appeal has been lodged against the conviction and have indicated that they are prepared to take the case to Sudan’s Supreme Court and Constitutional Court if the appeal proves unsuccessful.

Ibrahim, who was raised in Eastern Sudan’s Gedarif state, was born to an Ethiopian Christian mother and a Sudanese Muslim father, who was largely absent from her childhood.

She was arrested in 2013 after a relative reported her to authorities for adultery, with an additional charge of apostasy, which is defined as the act of renouncing one’s religion, brought against her in February after she asserted that she was not a Muslim.

Her sentence has provoked statements of concern from Sudanese civil society, the United Nations (UN), and governments around the world.

After the hearing, about 50 people demonstrated against the death sentence. “No to executing Meriam,” said one of their signs, while another proclaimed: “Religious rights are a constitutional right.”

A smaller group supporting the verdict also arrived.

In Washington, the State Department said the United States was “deeply disturbed” by the sentence and urged Sudan to protect freedom of religion.

“We strongly condemn this sentence and urge the government of Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden added in a statement. US senators, meanwhile, urged secretary of state John Kerry to personally intervene on Ibrahim’s behalf and offer her political asylum.

The UK government labelled the sentence “barbaric”, with Britain’s Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, adding that he was “truly appalled”.

“The fact that a woman has been sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to be flogged for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is appalling and abhorrent,” said Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher, Manar Idriss.

UN human rights experts described the conviction as “outrageous”, saying the right to marry and start a family was a fundamental human right.

There has also been an outpouring of public sympathy for Ibrahim’s plight, with more than 660,000 people signing a petition by Amnesty International calling for her immediate release. Amnesty says treating adultery and apostasy as criminal offences is inconsistent with international human rights law.

Sudan’s population is predominantly Muslim, but there is a Christian minority, particularly in the southern region. While executions for apostasy are rare, many people have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned after recanting their faith.

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