At the time of writing, confusion surrounds the fate of a woman sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy in Sudan.
Twenty-seven-year-old wife and mother Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was sentenced to death by Judge Abbas al Khalifa of the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum on 15 May. The death sentence is for apostasy under Article 126 of the Sudanese criminal law concerning apostasy (leaving the religion of Islam and converting to another religion). The judge also sentenced her to 100 lashes after convicting her of adultery, because her marriage to a Christian man was not valid under Islamic law (Article 146).
The synod Commission for Mission (CFM) supported a global campaign to overturn the conviction of Mrs Ibrahim. Uniting Church members have written polite letters to the government of Sudan seeking the over-turning of the sentence. The case has attracted international attention.
Reports from Sudan’s official news agency, SUNA, stated that Mrs Ibrahim had been released from jail late last month following a successful court appeal. However, later reports suggested the family was detained at Khartoum airport as they tried to leave the country.
Lawyers for the family expressed concern that they were detained by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) as they tried to board a flight to the US. Mrs Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, holds a US passport.
A spokesperson for the State Department in Washington was quoted in The Guardian as saying: “They have not been arrested. The government has assured us of their safety. The embassy has and will remain highly involved in working with the family and the government.”
The latest developments highlight the complexity of international human rights.
“This type of case is very sensitive,” Dr Mark Zirnsak of the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit said. “Foreigners taking action need to remember the objective is to get the sentence quashed. There is a need to be polite and not say anything that will increase the danger already faced by Mrs Ibrahim.”
Mrs Ibrahim was born in a small town in western Sudan to an Ethiopian Orthodox mother and a Muslim Sudanese father. Her father disappeared from her life when she was six years old and her mother raised her in the Christian faith. Mrs Ibrahim met her husband, from South Sudan, in a church in Khartoum and they married in a church ceremony in 2012.
Last year someone who claimed to be a relative of Mrs Ibrahim reported her marriage to the authorities. She was subsequently charged with ‘adultery’ under article 146 and apostasy under article 126 of the Criminal Code. As her father was a Muslim, Mrs Ibrahim is considered to be a Muslim as well. Under Sudanese law Muslim women may only marry Muslim men. Therefore her marriage is not legally valid and hence the adultery charge.
After Mrs Ibrahim’s release from jail, her lawyer expressed fears for her safety and that of her family.