Home | News    Sunday 1 June 2014

Confusion over reports Sudan will release woman sentenced to death for apostasy


June 1, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The Sudanese foreign ministry denied a statement attributed to its undersecretary Abdallah Alazrag in which he announced that the government will seek to free a woman sentenced to death for apostasy within the next few days.

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A recent picture for Meriam Ibrahim from her prison published by al-Sudani newspaper showing her after the birth of her daughter alongside her son.

"The lady will be freed within days in line with legal procedure that will be taken by the judiciary and the ministry of justice," Alazrag told Agence France Presse (AFP) earlier today.

“She will definitely not be executed. I am sure about this,” he told The Sunday Times in separate remarks.

The Sudanese diplomat made similar statements to BBC and Reuters. Sudan Tribune’s reporter in Khartoum said that Alazrag, who was Khartoum’s former ambassador to London, has been staying in Britain for some time seeking medical treatment.

He did not specify how the 27-year-old Meriam Yehya Ibrahim would be released despite a court conviction which a lawyer told Sudan Tribune can only be overturned by appeals court or a clemency issued by president Omer Hassan al-Bashir.

In a statement to CNN, Sudan’s foreign ministry spokesperson Abu Bakr al-Sideeg, said he was unaware of any plans to release Ibrahim “before a ruling from an appeals court”.

Sudan Tribune failed to reach the spokesperson despite repeated attempts today.

The court convicted Ibrahim, who is in custody with her 20-month-old son and her newborn baby, of the charges on May 11th and gave her three days to return to Islam.

The judge also sentenced Ibrahim to 100 lashes after convicting her of adultery as under Sudan’s Islamic Shar’ia law her marriage to a non-Muslim is considered invalid and therefore an adulterous relationship.

The ruling drew widespread condemnation by Western governments and human right groups.

Ibrahim’s lawyer Elshareef Ali Elshareef Mohammed told UK-based Channel 4 News today that she is currently being held in the hospital ward of a prison that is overcrowded and "not a proper place" for a new mother. Ibrahim gave birth to her baby daughter this week with her feet chained together, he added.

He further stressed said that any decision to release her would have to be made by an appeal court, not a government official, and that it would take months, rather than days, to process the appeal.

He accused Alazrag of making false statements to pacify the media and fend off international pressure.

"One person in the UK (Alazrag) saw the UK media, and wanted to stop the campaign (for her release)," the lawyer said.


Today the UK Prime Minister David Cameron told The Times that he was “absolutely appalled” when he learnt of the death sentence against Ibrahim and called for lifting the "barbaric" verdict.

“The way she is being treated is barbaric and has no place in today’s world,” he said.

“Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right. I urge the government of Sudan to overturn the sentence and immediately provide appropriate support and medical care for her and her children. The UK will continue to press the government of Sudan to act," Cameron pledged.

His predecessor Tony Blair was quoted by the same newspaper as saying that justifying her treatment in the name of religion was “a brutal and sickening distortion of faith and we must unite in calling for her release".

“We must fight to protect freedom of belief, strive to allow people to worship the god they want or to worship none," Blair said.

Ed Miliband, the leader of the UK Labour party, described her conviction as “utterly appalling” and “an abhorrent abuse of her human rights”. He said that his party had pressed for Cameron message to be sent to the Sudanese government.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Ibrahim’s sentence contradicted Sudan’s own constitution.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton joined the chorus of world officials condemning the sentence.

"Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s death sentence is abhorrent," Clinton wrote on Twitter. "Sudan should stop threatening religious freedom and fundamental human rights".

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, was quoted by Sky News as saying that "our religions tell us that human interactions should be shaped by compassion and humanity, not by death sentences".

"Christians and Muslims should be able to coexist alongside each other," he added.

The US disclosed that is closely working to convince Khartoum to release Ibrahim.

“Through the US embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department, we have communicated our strong concern at high levels of the Sudanese government about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson wrote in an email to FoxNews.com.

“We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight. We have conveyed these views to the Government of Sudan,” Thompson said.


The prominent Sudanese legal expert on international law Dr. Faisal Abdelrahman Taha asserted in an interview with Sudan Tribune that the apostasy law in its entirety is unconstitutional.

He said the ruling contravenes both Sudan’s 2005 interim constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) the country ratified more than two decades ago.

Sudan acceded to the ICCPR of 1966 in March 1986 and entered into force three months later.

Article 18(1) of the covenant states that "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching".

Taha said that the government never expressed any reservation to any provision of the ICCPR when it acceded to it or issued any interpretative declaration like some other Arab countries.

"The covenant is binding to its parties and it affords many rights not even endorsed or approved by Islamic Shar’ia law," Taha said, a situation which poses a dilemma for the Islamist government.

He emphasized that international law does not allow a state to use its national laws or constitution to justify its failure to fulfill its obligations under a convention it ratified.

The former head of International and Comparative Law division at the University of Khartoum (UoK) recalled that Sudan affirmed its adherence to the principle of the freedom of religion in several official reports submitted to the Human Rights Committee tasked with monitoring adherence to the ICCPR.

This includes its third periodic report dated June 26 1996 which noted that article 38 of the 2005 constitution states that "every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship, and to declare his/her religion or creed and manifest the same, by way of worship, education, practice or performance of rites or ceremonies, subject to requirements of law and public order; no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent".

In 2007, the Sudanese government addressed concerns raised by the committee regarding incorporation of the covenant in national law by saying that according to Article 27(3) of the 2005 constitution " All rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants and instruments ratified by the Republic of the Sudan shall be an integral part of this Bill [of rights]".


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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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