A week after Sudanese officials rearrested Meriam Ibrahim as she tried to leave the country, the persecuted Christian said she feared the baby daughter she delivered during her imprisonment could face physical disabilities.
Ibrahim, 27, described the ordeal of giving birth in an unsanitary hospital during a phone interview with CNN on Monday: “I gave birth chained. Not cuffs, but chains on my legs. I couldn’t open my legs, so the women had to lift me off the table.”
Ibrahim—trained as a physician—said she feared the brutal conditions during the May 27 delivery had affected her daughter’s physical condition, though she couldn’t assess the long-term damage: “Something has happened to the baby. … I don’t know in the future whether she’ll need support to walk or not.”
The latest revelation in Ibrahim’s saga underscores the urgency of her quest to leave Sudan with her husband—a naturalized American citizen born in Sudan—and the couple’s two children. It also highlights the dangers for other Sudanese still facing severe penalties—and even death—for their Christian faith.
Ibrahim initially was arrested after a family member accused her of committing adultery for marrying a Christian instead of a Muslim. Sharia law considers Ibrahim a Muslim because her father was Muslim. But Ibrahim’s father abandoned the family when she was young, and her Christian mother raised her. Ibrahim says she never embraced Islam.
When Ibrahim refused to recant her Christian faith in May, a judge added apostasy charges, and a court sentenced her to death by hanging. Ibrahim returned to her prison cell with her 18-month-old son and gave birth to her daughter on May 27. After her story drew an international outcry—and her American husband pleaded for help from the United States—a Sudanese court overturned her conviction on June 26.
But as Ibrahim and her family waited at the Khartoum airport for a flight to the United States, Sudanese authorities arrested her again. They accused her of trying to leave the country without the proper paperwork. After releasing her on bail, Ibrahim sought refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Sudan. She told CNN that she’s “currently in a safe place.”
Meanwhile, other Christians in Sudan face ongoing danger. In a case similar to Ibrahim’s, authorities arrested Faiza Abdalla on April 2. The 37-year-old woman identified herself as Christian while applying for a national identification card in her hometown of El Gadarif. Authorities immediately arrested her based on her Muslim name, according to Morning Star News. The agency reported Abdalla’s parents converted from Islam to Christianity before she was born. By April 8, a court had terminated her marriage to a Catholic man from South Sudan and accused her of adultery for marrying a Christian. Church leaders in the town have asked for her release, but she remains in prison.
Abdalla’s case has drawn far less international attention, but religious liberty advocate Elizabeth Kendal said her straits demand an outcry as well: “Alone, without connections, Faiza is at risk of being forgotten and abandoned by the West, which should care as much about her plight as about Meriam’s.”
The plight of both women points to the ongoing persecution of Christians in Sudan under the regime of dictator Omar al-Bashir. Many say the persecution has grown worse since South Sudan declared its independence from the nation in 2011.
Bashir’s government has threatened to declare Christians foreigners, and has relentlessly bombed its own Christian citizens areas in the Nuba Mountains near the border with South Sudan.
In April 2013, the Sudanese government announced it would no longer issue permits for new churches. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Sudanese authorities ordered the destruction of some church buildings, including the Church of Christ in Khartoum on June 30.
But Sudanese officials have also lobbied for the United States to drop Sudan from the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism. The State Department has kept Sudan on the list because of human rights abuses and the country’s connections to Hamas. Being removed from the list would also remove some of the U.S. sanctions against Sudan—an attractive prospect for a nation with economic woes.
Sudan’s initial release of Ibrahim may have been aimed at smoothing over a high-profile case with U.S. officials. But plenty of human rights abuses continue, including systematic persecution of Christians. Religious liberty advocates say the United States should continue to pressure the Sudanese government for Ibrahim’s release, as well as others facing long sentences for their Christian beliefs.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department has said that Ibrahim has all the proper documents to enter the United States, but, “It’s up to the government of Sudan to allow her to exit the country.” Ibrahim says she has an exit visa from South Sudan, and should be allowed to use it because her husband has both a South Sudanese and an U.S. passport.
Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wadi, has remained with his wife and children, and she said she was leaning on him to help protect and guide her family through the next steps, though it’s unclear where that will be: “I’ll go wherever he takes us—it’s not a problem.”