May 13, 2014 (WASHINGTON) – US secretary of state John Kerry has slammed the sentencing of a Sudanese Christian woman to death for her religious views, urging the country to repeal its laws criminalising conversion from Islam.
- Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, pictured with her husband Daniel Wani on their wedding day
“The United States remains deeply concerned about the conviction and continued imprisonment of Ms Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag,” he said in a statement on Thursday.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy on 15 May and sentenced to hang after refusing to revert to Islam. The court also sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery as her marriage to a Christian man is considered invalid under Sudan’s Islamic Shari’a law.
Ibrahim, who was born to a largely absent Sudanese Muslim father, was raised according to her Ethiopian mother’s Christian faith.
She has been imprisoned with her 20-month-old son, Martin, since her arrest in December last year and gave birth to a baby girl in prison on 27 May.
As a Christian, her husband is not able to legally claim custody of his children and they remain in custody with their mother.
Kerry has urged the Sudanese government to release Ibrahim and allow her to return home with her family.
“I urge the Sudanese judiciary and government to respect Ms Ishag’s fundamental right to freedom of religion,” he said.
He said Sudan’s current laws were at odds with its own 2005 interim constitution and international law and should be repealed.
“Such actions would help to demonstrate to the Sudanese people that their government intends to respect their fundamental freedoms and universal human rights,” he said.
The top diplomat said he remained “deeply committed” to a better future for Sudan and its people.
“Sudan’s journey has long been a struggle, and back when I was still a United States senator, I travelled to the region many times to help find greater understanding and hope for a different kind of future,” he said.
“That is one of the reasons we are all so concerned about the travails of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag,” he added.
Ibrahim’s sentence has sparked international outrage, with some US senators calling on Kerry to personally intervene in the case and offer her asylum.
Her husband Daniel Wani is a South Sudanese-born US citizen and as such her children are automatically entitled to citizenship regardless of their country of birth.
However, the US has yet to officially recognise the citizenship of their son, indicating it may require a paternity test, despite Wani submitting supporting documents, including a birth and marriage certificates to the embassy in Khartoum.
The matter was the subject of a heated exchange between a journalist and deputy spokesperson Marie Harf at a press briefing on 5 June in which Harf declined to comment on whether the documents submitted by Wani validating the marriage and birth of their son voided the need for a paternity test.
Harf, who claimed she had no knowledge of the documents, would also not be drawn on whether any steps had been taken to verify their authenticity.
Ibrahim’s legal team has since launched an appeal against the sentence and have indicated they would explore all avenues. If upheld, Ibrahim’s execution would be carried out within the next two years after her baby is fully weaned.
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