WASHINGTON—Lawmakers on Wednesday blasted the Sudanese government for continuing to prohibit Meriam Ibrahim and her family from leaving Sudan.
Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, convened the hearing to spotlight the unresolved case of Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman whose husband and two children are American citizens. Ibrahim was raised as a Christian by her mother, but a Sudanese court in May sentenced her to death for converting from Islam, the religion of her absentee father.
“Her refusal to leave the faith she had practiced her entire life led to her being in mortal fear for her life,” Smith said.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., who is not a member of the panel but attended the hearing, gave fiery remarks directed at the Sudanese officials who were likely watching. “We will bring the government down,” Wolf shouted. “If Meriam is not out in two weeks, they should never be removed from the sanctions list.”
Smith originally scheduled Wednesday’s hearing in June, but he canceled it after assurances he received in a meeting with Sudanese officials. Three days later, authorities in Sudan released Ibrahim and her children only to detain them the next day while they were trying to leave the country. Media reports said Ibrahim tried to use forged travel documents, but they actually were improper travel documents.
While officials sorted out the document problems, Ibrahim’s family filed an appeal that was later dropped. Yet the family remains at the U.S. Embassy at Khartoum. Observers believe the Sudanese government may be waiting for the close of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month that ends July 28.
Republicans assailed the Obama administration for showing a lack of concern about Ibrahim’s plight, saying the State Department is more concerned with pushing the LGBT agenda abroad than defending religious freedom. Smith said the LGBT agenda “trumps everything” in foreign policy, but “it’s not a heavy lift” for the president to stop playing golf long enough to pick up the phone and tell Sudan to release the Americans.
Republicans also criticized the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum for not helping Ibrahim, who was first arrested in 2013, before the situation evolved into a crisis. “I think our State Department is failing us,” said Wolf, citing human rights violations in North Korea, Vietnam, and China. “Weakness is never good. We are weak. We are perceived as weak.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told lawmakers Obama’s indifference is exemplified in his refusal to appoint a new U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a post vacant since last year. “This administration believes religious belief should be quarantined to private spaces and excluded from the public square,” Perkins said.
Zuhdi Jasser, vice chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, gave lawmakers a list of action items, including calling for Ibrahim’s release, designating Sudan a “country of particular concern” and making religious freedom a centerpiece of U.S.-Sudan relations.
Smith vowed to continue calling attention to Ibrahim’s case until Sudan lets the woman and her family out of the country: “This will be a hearing in a series of hearings until this is resolved.”