May 23, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – There has been an outpouring of public support for an eight months pregnant Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death for her religious beliefs, with 620,000 Amnesty International (AI) supporters joining calls for her release.
- A photo taken on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag’s wedding day
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who is in custody with her 20-month-old son, was convicted of apostasy and adultery on 11 May, with a Khartoum court handing down the decision at a sentencing hearing on 15 May after she refused to return to Islam.
She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery as her marriage to a Christian man is considered invalid under Sudan’s Islamic Shari’a law, which stipulates that a Muslim woman must not marry a non-Muslim.
Amnesty has described the public’s response as “exceptional”, saying her case had clearly struck a chord around the world.
“The plight and the bravery of this young pregnant mother has clearly touched the world. More than 620,000 Amnesty International supporters have taken action to call for her immediate and unconditional release,” said Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher.
Amnesty said Ibrahim’s lawyers have confirmed that an appeal has been lodged against the conviction. Her defence team has indicated that they will take the case to Sudan’s Supreme Court and Constitutional Court if the appeal is unsuccessful.
“We welcome the fact that an appeal has been lodged, although Meriam should never have faced any charges or courts in the first place,” said Idriss. “We remain hopeful that with enough international and local support this abhorrent conviction and sentence can be overturned.”
There has been growing international condemnation over the case amid reports Ibrahim has been constantly restrained in shackles since her sentencing, a common practice commonly used on prisoners who have been sentenced to death.
The United Nations and a number of foreign governments have called for the decision to be rescinded, urging the Sudanese government to respect its obligations under international law.
“Since Meriam has been sentenced, we are deeply concerned at the conditions of her detention and use of cruel and inhuman forms of restraint,” said Idriss.
US senators last week introduced a resolution condemning the sentencing, calling on secretary of state John Kerry to intervene on Ibrahim’s behalf and offer her political asylum.
“We request your immediate action and full diplomatic engagement to offer Meriam political asylum and to secure her and her son’s safe release,” the senators told Kerry in an open letter earlier this month.
On Monday, the chargé d’affaires at the Sudanese embassy in London was summonsed to a meeting at the UK Foreign Office, where political director Simon Gass expressed his deep concern over the recent decision.
The meeting followed comments by the UK’s minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, who said he was “appalled by the decision, describing the sentencing as “barbaric”.
Ibrahim, who is 27 years old, was born to an Ethiopian Christian mother and a Sudanese Muslim father, who was largely absent from her childhood.
She married her husband, a South Sudanese-born US citizen, but as the union is not recognised under Shari’a law it is therefore considered adulterous.
She was arrested in 2013 after a relative reported her to authorities, with an additional charge of apostasy brought against her in February after she asserted that she was not a Muslim.
Following her conviction she was given three days to recant her faith and return to Islam, with the court subsequently affirming the sentence to death y hanging after she refused.
If upheld, her sentence would be carried out after she gives birth and her baby is fully weaned.
A group of United Nations human rights experts recently labelled Ibrahim’s conviction as “outrageous”, saying neither adultery nor apostasy could be considered crimes under international law.
The UN experts said there was no justification for “the criminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults” and that the right to marry and start a family was a fundamental human right.