The Sudanese mother of two who was sentenced to death for refusing to abandon her Christian faith has been set free after a Sudanese appeals court overturned her guilty verdict, but she’s not out of danger yet.
According to multiple reports, Meriam Ibrahim was released from Omdurman Woman’s Prison in Khartoum on Monday after an appeals court threw out her convictions for adultery and apostasy. So far the court has not made public its reasons for throwing out the convictions.
The Story so Far: Fighting for the Right to Keep Her Faith
Ibrahim, 27, was arrested last year for her 2011 marriage to her Christian husband. Ibrahim was brought up a Christian but due to her father being a Muslim, and regardless of the fact that he was absent from her life from a very young age, the religious courts in the Sudan class Ibrahim as a Muslim. As a result, they said she broke the law when she married a Christian man. The courts annulled her marriage to her husband and she was sentenced to 100 lashes for marrying outside of the Muslim faith.
When later Ibrahim refused to renounce her Christianity, she was then labelled an “apostate,” the crime of trying to cast off one’s Muslim faith. In the Sudan, like many places in the world, this is a crime punishable by death. As a result, Ibrahim was sentenced to death by hanging.
Ibrahim, who was pregnant at the time, was remanded in custody along with her two year-old son. She later gave birth to a daughter while shackled in jail. Her daughter’s early arrival last month, though incredibly distressing for all concerned, served to push back the date of Ibrahim’s death sentence by a couple of years because Sudanese law provides that a mother should be allowed to care for a newborn child until that child can be reared independently of her.
Nevertheless, the birth of Ibrahim’s daughter only served to intensify the international outcry and the Sudanese government, powerless to overturn the sentence itself, quickly petitioned the courts to reverse Ibrahim’s convictions.
Meriam Ibrahim is Free, but Still in Danger
While Ibrahim has now been freed from prison, there are fears that as long as she remains in the Sudan she will be a target for religious hatred and state persecution. Her husband is an American citizen, so it was hoped that Ibrahim and her children could find refuge in the United States.
To that end, it emerged on Tuesday that Ibrahim and her family attempted to leave the Sudan shortly after her release. However, Sudanese authorities would not allow her to board a plane. The Guardian reports:
Her lawyer, Elshareef Mohammed, who was with Ibrahim at Khartoum airport at the time, said more than 40 security officers prevented the family from boarding a plane to the US. Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is a US citizen.
“It’s very disappointing,” Elshareef said. “They were very angry. They took us [the family's lawyers] outside, and took the family to a Niss detention centre. They have not been given access to lawyers.”
At the time of writing, reports say Ibrahim is still being questioned by authorities at the airport. The problem may stem from the fact that while some officials have accepted the court’s opinion, not all have, with the BBC reporting that Ibrahim has been accused of forging her travel documents, which were apparently issued by the South Sudan authority.
The Washington state department believes her detention to be “temporary” but we will keep you updated on the latest as we get it.
Women in Danger So Long as Adultery and Apostasy Laws Remain
We also can’t forget that while Meriam Ibrahim’s story provided an almost perfect storm of characteristics to grab headlines — a professional Christian woman with a wheelchair-bound husband who has American citizenship, not to mention the fact that she had a child and was pregnant with her second child when put in jail — there are many other women who are falling victim to these kids of laws who do not have the benefit of being given the international media spotlight.
According to Amnesty International, over the past few years a number of women have been tried for adultery, as well as apostasy. These laws tend to impinge on women’s rights more heavily because of the strict view of female propriety that is inherent in Sharia law, though we should be clear that men can be victim to apostasy charges as well.
As we saw in Meriam Ibrahim’s case, because the Sharia courts give more power to the male line of heredity, a woman technically can’t even choose her faith if her father was a Muslim — though it is worth pointing out that even within the country, some Muslim scholars heavily protested Ibrahim’s conviction, saying that the law had been misapplied.
With that problem in mind, human rights groups want to see an end to adultery charges, the death penalty and apostasy laws, not just because the laws themselves are inherently bad, but also because they serve to further chill freedom of expression among women.
“[Monday's] ruling is a small step to redressing the injustice done to Meriam,” Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director at Amnesty International, is quoted as saying. “However, she should never have been prosecuted. Meriam was sentenced to death when eight months pregnant for something which should not be a crime. Furthermore, her abhorrent treatment, including being shackled, violated international human rights law against ill-treatment. Amnesty International will continue to urge the Sudanese authorities to repeal provisions that criminalize acts of apostasy and adultery so that nobody else in Sudan has to endure the same ordeal as Meriam and to establish a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolishing the death penalty.”
Care2 Success: Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of Care2 users who signed a number of Care2 petitions calling on the Sudan to free Meriam Ibrahim. Your voices were invaluable in keeping the spotlight on Ibrahim’s case as she waited for her appeal.
We will continue to update you on the latest developments in Meriam’s story as more information emerges.
UPDATE 06/26/2014: Reports say that Meriam Ibrahim is no longer being detained, though what she plans to do now and whether she will be allowed to leave the country remains to be seen.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.
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