Khartoum, Sudan, May 16, 2014 / 16:30 pm
A pregnant woman who was raised as a Christian has been sentenced to execution by a Sudanese court that contends she has apostatized from Islam, drawing worldwide condemnation.
"Mrs. Ibrahim's willingness to stand-up for her faith – even in the face of death – is a true mark of uncommon courage and bravery," Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said May 15.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, is recognized as Muslim under Sudanese law because her father was Muslim. Her father abandoned the family when Ibrahim was six years old and she was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother.
Ibrahim married Daniel Wani, a Christian from South Sudan, and is now eight months pregnant.
She was arrested in August 2013; a Khartoum court convicted Ibrahim May 15 of apostasy from Islam, and adultery, on the grounds that marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men is not recognized.
Smith called the death sentence "an egregious violation of basic human rights" and "an affront to religious freedom everywhere."
Ibrahim rejected the charges. "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy," she told the court.
Three potential witnesses who went to court to testify about the woman's lifelong Christian faith were prevented from giving evidence, the U.K.-based religious liberty group Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports.
Ibrahim has been held in a women's prison along with her 20-month-old son, who is suffering illnesses due to the prison's poor hygiene and insect control. She will face 100 lashes on the adultery charge, and execution by hanging on the apostasy charge, reportedly after she gives birth.
Her lawyers plan to appeal to a higher court to have her sentence overturned.
"I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do," Wani told CNN May 15. "I'm just praying."
Several dozen Sudanese protesters gathered outside the court to object to the decision.
The embassies of the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and the Netherlands in Sudan objected to the decision, urging the government to "respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs."
The death sentence has drawn criticism from around the world.
Andy Dipper, chief operating officer of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the sentence is "inhumane, unwarranted and unacceptable."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide called for the "immediate release" of Ibrahim and her son. The organization cited her religious freedom rights under the Sudan's interim constitution and under the international conventions the country has signed. The detention of her son violates the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, she noted.
Manar Idriss, Amnesty International's Sudan researcher, said May 15 that "the fact that a woman has been sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is appalling and abhorrent."
"Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all," he added. "It is flagrant breach of international human rights law."
A U.S. state department spokesperson said May 15 that the U.S. is "deeply concerned" by the sentences and urged the Sudanese government to "respect the right to religious freedom."
"We call on the Sudanese legal authorities to approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people."
Smith said the U.S. and the international community should demand a reversal of the sentence, calling the Sudanese government's refusal to recognize religious freedom a motivation for the region's lengthy civil war.
Sudan fought a civil war from 1983 to 2005 which led to autonomy for southern Sudan, and the formation of an independent South Sudan in 2011. Sudan's population is 97 percent Muslim.
Sudan scored an 11 out of 100 in Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking at 174 out of 177 among nations based on the perception of their public sector corruption – ahead of only Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia.
Since 1999, the U.S. state department has listed Sudan as a country of particular concern due to religious freedom violations.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the U.S. government, said in its 2014 report that Sudan's government "continues to engage in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief." The report noted that the country's "restrictive interpretation of Shariah law" is imposed on both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide called on the Sudanese government to address the "high degree of societal hostility" towards religious minorities, including "derogatory statements that may address hatred."