May 5, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – A Sudanese court has sentenced a heavily pregnant Christian woman to death by hanging and 100 lashes after convicting her on charges of apostasy and adultery.
A Khartoum court handed down the sentence on Thursday morning (local time) after 27-year-old Meriam Yehya Ibrahim refused to recant her faith.
Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, was convicted of adultery and apostasy on 11 May and given three days by the court to renounce her religion.
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 adulterous. The court later added the charge of apostasy when Ibrahim, who was raised an Orthodox Christian, asserted that she was not a Muslim.
Amnesty International has described the sentence as “truly abhorrent”.
It said Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience, convicted solely because of her religious beliefs and identity and should be released immediately.
“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,” Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher, said in a statement following the sentencing.
“Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law,” he added.
According to the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), Ibrahim was born in Gedarif state, and raised solely by her Christian Ethiopian Orthodox mother as her Muslim Sudanese father was entirely absent from her upbringing.
In 2012, she married Dr Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese born US citizen, in Khartoum, with whom she has a 20-month-year-old son.
SIHA said it had been informed by Ibrahim’s legal consul that the US embassy in Khartoum has so far been unable to arrange a DNA test, required to support her husband’s claim for custody of their son, who is currently incarcerated with his mother.
It remains unclear what support options will be available to the US embassy for the family even in the event that a DNA test demonstrates the paternity of the child, as Sudanese authorities are likely to refuse the father’s claim for custody given he is not a Muslim.
EU representatives 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 on Tuesday, European diplomats underlined Sudan’s obligation under international law to defend and promote the freedom of religion.
The US, UK, Canadian and Dutch embassies in Khartoum also issued a joint statement prior to Ibrahim’s sentencing expressing their deep concern over the court’s ruling and calling for compassion.
However, according to SIHA said Sudan’s legal system has a history of singling out women, ethnic minorities and activists with punishments often disproportionate to the alleged crimes committed.
“The fact that Meriam stands to lose her life over specious charges makes this case of utmost urgency and demands a unified advocacy and outreach efforts by human rights defenders across the globe,” it said.
While Amnesty has documented a number of cases in recent years of flogging sentences carried out in Sudan, there have been no known executions for apostasy since the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Code was enacted, although many have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned after recanting their faith.
Sudan’s judicial system came under scrutiny earlier this year after an 18-year-old Ethiopian woman, who was gang raped by seven men in Omdurman when she was three months pregnant, was charged with adultery and prostitution.