WASHINGTON — The plight of a Sudanese woman who was sentenced to hang for refusing to convert to Islam but later freed was the focus of discussion during a Congressional hearing on Wednesday.
As previously reported, Meriam Ibrahim, 27, was officially sentenced on May 15th after she was convicted of apostasy against Islam after she refused to convert from Roman Catholicism. Ibrahim was born to a Muslim father, but was raised by an Ethiopian Orthodox mother as the father left the home when Ibrahim was a child. In Sudan, children are expected to follow the religion of their fathers, and her father’s family had reportedly turned her into authorities for rejecting Islam.
Ibrahim was also sentenced to 100 lashes for allegedly committing “zena”—that is, having illegitimate sex by marrying a non-Muslim. The expectant mother married Daniel Wani in 2011, and the two have an 18-month old son together, along with a newborn baby girl. Sudanese law prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, although men can marry whomever they wish without penalty.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy on May 11th for rejecting Islam and was given four days to recant, which would have saved her life. Unlike others who have faced similar sentences in Sudan, she refused to convert.
“We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam,” Judge Abbas Khalifa told Ibrahim, as reported by the AFP. “I sentence you to be hanged to death.”
The court had also ruled that after Ibrahim gave birth—as she was pregnant at the time, she was to receive the 100 lashes, and would be permitted to nurse the child for two years before the execution would be carried out. In late May, Ibrahim delivered a baby girl in the hospital wing of the prison, who she named Maya. Initial reports relayed concerns that the child might have permanent injuries after being born in chains.
Amid international outcry, Ibrahim was released from prison last month, but when she sought to leave the country, she was again arrested. According to reports, Ibrahim left Sudan today (Thursday) and is now in Italy, where she will remain until she joins her husband in the United States.
On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on global human rights heard testimony about persecution and Islamic oppression in Sudan in a hearing entitled “The Troubling Case of Meriam Ibrahim.”
“We intend for this hearing to be an appeal to the government of Sudan to use their legal authority to end the official entanglements Meriam has faced since her arrest in January and subsequent trial,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of the panel and also a Roman Catholic, stated.
“The harsh application of Sha’ria law on non-Muslims was the trigger for a two-decade civil war in Sudan and the eventual secession of the South,” he said. “Sudan is one of 20 countries in the world who have laws against apostasy–defined as the abandonment by an individual of their original religion.”
Also appearing at the hearing was Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Christian organization Family Research Council.
“Though Sudan is certainly not the worst offender of religious freedom worldwide, the country historically has not had a stellar record on religious toleration,” he stated, noting that the law that was used to convict Ibrahim was enacted in 1991. “Christians [and other religious groups] have been detained by the National Intelligence Security Services and church buildings have been demolished and vandalized.”
Omar Omer Ismail of the Enough Project, a group that fights global crimes against humanity, told the panel that the Sudanese government often regards those who reject Islam as their enemy.
“This government flaunts a brand of Islam and promotes a racial identity that is exclusive and divisive and is met with wide rejection and resistance among the majority of the Sudanese people,” Ismail said. “According to the Sudanese Interim National Constitution of 2005, ‘every person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship.’ In spite of this, the practice of the government of Sudan is all but adhering to its contract with the Sudanese people.”
Grover Joseph Rees, former general counsel for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, additionally discussed with the panel whether Ibrahim’s children should be considered citizens of the United States and granted protections accordingly.