Sudanese Judge Abaas Al Khalifa sentenced a 27-year-old pregnant mother to death by hanging after she refused to recant her Christian faith earlier this month. She also will face 100 lashes for “adultery” because the court does not recognize her marriage to a Christian South Sudanese man.
Even after officials tried to get Meriam Yahia Ibrahim to renounce Christianity, she told Al Khalifa on May 15, “I am a Christian and I have never been a Muslim.” She is the first person the Sudanese court has sentenced to death, although Christians have faced whippings, beatings, and arbitrary detention under the country’s Sharia law, according to International Christian Concern (ICC).
According to her husband, Daniel Wani, a naturalized U.S. citizen, her attorneys plan to appeal the ruling. Ibrahim, who has a 20-month-old son in prison with her, is eight months pregnant and could go into labor with her second child any day now, according to Morning Star News (MSN). If the sentencing stands, she will face her flogging sometime after giving birth, then will have two years to raise the newborn before authorities execute her, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Ibrahim was arrested in August 2013 after a family member reported her on adultery charges, according to Amnesty International. Sharia law prohibits Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men. When she told the court in February she was a Christian, the judge added blasphemy charges. Ibrahim is considered a Muslim by birth, even though her Muslim father left while she was young and she was raised by her Christian mother.
Wani told MSN that guards and woman in the jail have abused Ibrahim and blocked visitors and medical care. He pleaded for help saying, “My wife was never a Muslim. As an American citizen, I ask the people and government of the USA to help me.” In spite of his citizenship, Wani said the the U.S. Embassy would do nothing until he sends DNA samples to the U.S. for testing. He also previously tried to get his wife and child visas to come to the United States, but the paperwork still hasn’t been processed, according to human rights group Hardwire.
The U.S. State Department said it was “deeply disturbed” by the sentencing and continued to “call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, a right which is enshrined in Sudan’s own 2005 Interim Constitution as well as international human rights law,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statement.
International groups such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Amnesty International, and ICC have denounced the ruling.
“In several countries throughout the world, men, and especially women, are victimized regularly by Islamic and Sharia-inspired law,” said ICC’s Cameron Thomas. “Meriam, the pregnant wife of an American citizen and mother to an infant toddler, epitomizes innocence, and so the abominable charges leveled against her and others stand out even more so when leveled against a woman in her situation.”