The story of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese mother who was sentenced to death for refusing to give up her Christian faith, has made headlines across the globe. Here are five key updates you need to know about her story.
First, readers can catch up with our original coverage here but, briefly, 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim was arrested last year for marrying her Christian husband in 2011. Ibrahim, who has a two-year old son, was brought up a Christian but because her father was a Muslim, and despite the fact that he left her and her mother at a very young age, the religious courts in the Sudan contend that she is a Muslim by heritage and therefore had broken religious laws when she married outside of the faith. Her marriage to her husband was then annulled and she was sentenced to 100 lashes. When Ibrahim refused to give up her Christian faith, the religious courts then handed down a sentence of “apostasy” or the crime of trying to cast off her Muslim faith — a crime punishable by death. Until that punishment can be administered, she has been remanded in custody, along with her two year-old son, at Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison in North Khartoum.
Here’s an overview of what has happened since the original story broke:
1. Ibrahim has Given Birth to a Baby Girl
One of the incredibly distressing factors in this case was that at the time of sentencing last month, Ibrahim was heavily pregnant. She has since given birth to a baby girl, called Maya, in the hospital wing at Omdurman prison. Press reports suggest that she was forced to give birth while shackled to the floor, though these reports have not been confirmed by impartial observers. The baby is said to be healthy. Ibrahim’s other son, whom the authorities will not release into the care of his father because he is a Christian, is still in the prison with Ibrahim and is said to be fairing less well. Due to the poor conditions of prisoner care, he and Ibrahim are said to be battling ill-health.
2. Ibrahim’s Sentence is (at Least) Postponed for Two Years
Religious authorities in the country have told the press that Ibrahim’s death sentence will be postponed for two years so that she is able to nurse her newborn child, a provision that is set out in Sudanese law. Her additional sentence of 100 lashes for adultery (as her marriage is not recognized) also appears to be postponed.
3. Reports Over Ibrahim Being Freed Appear Premature
The BBC is reporting that government official Abdullahi Alzareg, an under-secretary at the foreign ministry, recently said that Ibrahim will be freed in the next few days as a show of how the country “respects” religious freedom and religious rights. Since the religious courts sentenced Ibrahim to death, the Sudanese government has been particularly agitated by the sentence as it has caused international outrage.
However, Ibrahim’s lawyers have told the UK’s Channel 4 that this is “absurd” and that Ibrahim’s family hasn’t been given any details of a release plan. The government, they say, does not have the power to work unilaterally and only a court appeal can overturn the sentence. Said appeal is now in the works but, the lawyers caution, it will take months. Even if the appeal is successful though, Ibrahim’s battle will not be over.
4. Even if Ibrahim is Freed, She and Her Children Will Not be Safe in the Sudan
Due to the fact that Ibrahim’s case has become such a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about religious tolerance and women’s rights in Sudan, international rights groups fear that Ibrahim’s family may now have become a target for religious extremists who would wish to punish her for apostasy, even if the government and the religious courts ultimately drop that charge. Ibrahim’s husband has American citizenship but the US embassy in the Sudan is said to have been less than helpful when it comes to intervening to free Ibrahim and bring her and her children to America.
5. Ibrahim’s Family Alleges the US Embassy and the State Department Have Been Unhelpful
Ibrahim’s husband Daniel Wani, a citizen of New Hampshire, has told reporters that the American Embassy in Khartoum has been incredibly unhelpful in working to get Ibrahim freed. “I thought this would be the one place which would help me, but they told me they didn’t have time to do anything,” Wani is quoted as saying. “I was upset because now that I am [an] American citizen I thought they would help me.“
Wani contends that the US State Department has even gone to the extraordinary length of asking Wani to prove that their son is in fact his biological son. He claims to have provided his wedding documents as well as the baby’s birth certificate, all of which show he is married and the father of Martin, their oldest child. Yet, he claims that the US has said this is not enough and that they require DNA samples to be taken to the embassy in Khartoum. “It’s as if they don’t believe a word I say,” he added.
Other reports suggest that United States officials have, however, been in regular attendance at Ibrahim’s court appearances, so there appears to be some disconnect between Wani’s experience with the US embassy and what officials claim to be doing to help the situation. In the meantime, US lawmakers have joined the growing chorus of international voices condemning Meriam Ibrahim’s treatment.
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