May 14, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – A 27-year-old Christian mother-of-one from Sudan is facing a possible death sentence unless she renounces her faith after being convicted on charges of adultery and apostasy.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, is currently in detention with her 20-month-old son.
Amnesty International said Ibrahim was arrested and charged with adultery in August 2013 after a family member reportedly claimed that she was committing adultery because of her marriage to a Christian South Sudanese man.
Under Sudan’s Islamic Shari’a law, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man, thus any such marriage is considered to be adultery. The court later added the charge of apostasy when Ibrahim asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim.
She was convicted of the charges by a court in Khartoum on 11 May and given three days to recant her faith. Her next hearing is scheduled to take place on Thursday, when she is likely to be sentenced to flogging and death.
Representatives of the European Union delegation and its member states in Khartoum said they had been following the case closely due to its implications for human rights and religious tolerance in the country.
In a brief statement issued on Tuesday following a briefing from Ibrahim’s legal team, the EU diplomats called on Sudan to respect religious freedoms.
“While reiterating full respect for the independence of the Sudanese legal system, the EU representatives recalled that the freedom of religion is a universal human right that needs to be protected everywhere and for everyone,” the statement said.
“The EU diplomats underlined that in the context of relevant UN and African Union conventions, Sudan has an international obligation to defend and promote the freedom of religion.”
The US, UK, Canadian and Dutch embassies in Khartoum also issued a joint statement, expressing their deep concern over the court’s ruling, urging Sudanese legal authorities to approach Ibrahim’s case with compassion.
“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. Adultery,” said a statement issued by the US embassy in Khartoum.
“We are also concerned over the brutal sentence that could be faced with respect to the finding of adultery,” said a statement issued by the US embassy in Khartoum,” the statement adds.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International is calling on Sudanese authorities to repeal Articles 126 and 146, which pertain to the criminalisation of apostasy and adultery respectively.
“Meriam Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience, convicted solely because of her religious beliefs and identity, and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” Amnesty said in a statement on Monday.
“Treating adultery and apostasy as criminal offences is not consistent with international human rights law,” it said.
Sudan Change Now, a social and political movement, issued a statement on Tuesday demanding Ibrahim’s immediate release, describing the case and her treatment by authorities as “shameful”.
“The details of this case expose the regime’s blatant interference in the personal life of Sudanese citizens,” the group said.
“The issue of religion is something that is totally personal. The political and judiciary system have no legal right to intervene in it as long as it did not intrude[on] the individual freedoms and rights of others,” the statement adds.
Ibrahim says she was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her father, a Muslim, was largely absent during her childhood.
There have been no known cases of people executed for apostasy in Sudan since the 1991 Criminal Code was enacted, but many have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned after recanting their faith.
Amnesty says it has documented a number of cases in recent years of flogging sentences carried out in Sudan.
This latest case again throws the spotlight on Sudan’s judicial system, which came under intense international scrutiny recently after an 18-year-old Ethiopian woman who was gang raped by seven men in Sudan was charged with adultery and prostitution.