Lawyers question Sudanese court’s impartiality

13 June 2014

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LAWYERS for Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian sentenced to death last month for allegedly renouncing Islam, have accused the court in Sudan of bias and incompetence.

In appeal documents seen by The Times, the lawyers accuse the judge, Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa, of relying on "weak and contradictory" evidence and delivering a "religious sermon".

They note that Sudan's 2005 constitution explicitly allows for freedom of religion, and argue that, regardless, the case was a matter for the family courts, not the criminal court that handed down the death penalty, and a sentence of 100 lashes for alleged adultery. "It would seem as if the court treated [Mrs Ibrahim] as if she were an enemy of Islam. This has stripped the court of its independence and impartiality," the lawyers argue.

Mrs Ibrahim, who is 27, remains in Omdurman women's prison while her appeal is being heard, with her 18-month-old son, Martin, and newborn daughter, Maya. She gave birth while chained to the floor, on 27 May (News, 30 May).

A man who says that he is her brother, Al Samani al-Hadi, has argued that she had been drugged by her Christian husband, Daniel Wani, to make her convert to Christianity. He also said that if she did not recant, she should be hanged.

"It's one of two - if she repents and returns to our Islamic faith and to the embrace of our family, then we are her familyand she is ours," he told CNN. "But if she refuses, she should be executed.

"If she dies, we will have en- forced God's word. The solution is that she is executed. The world should not involve itself in our family affairs. This is a family, and these are our private affairs."

Mrs Ibrahim, however, told the court last month that, despite being born to a Muslim father, she had been raised by her mother as a Christian, and had never practised Islam.

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Mr Wani has suggested that his wife's family is pursuing the prosecution to gain control over her money and successful businesses. "If she recants, they are going to give her to her cousin. They want her money." He told The Daily Telegraph that the court had "said our marriage is invalid. If she recants, it means she is not going to be my wife."

As a United States citizen, Mr Wani said he was also calling on President Obama to intervene and to put pressure on the Sudanese government to release Mrs Ibrahim.

On Tuesday, the heads of the three main EU institutions urged the Sudanese authorities to free her. José Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy, and Martin Schulz - the presidents of, respectively, the European Commission, Council, and Parliament - said that Sudan had an "international obligation to protect the freedom of religion and belief". They called for "this inhumane verdict" to be revoked.

Other prominent figures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prime Minister, and Hillary Clinton, have already condemned her death sentence and demanded her release (News, 6 June).

Some 58 MPs, including the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry, have signed a letter to the Sudanese Ambassador to the UK, asking for her immediate release. There was also a protest outside the Sudanese embassy in London on Friday of last week. The event was organised by the British Pakistani Christian Association, whose chairman, Wilson Chowdhry, said: "Christian persecution in the Islamic world has reached unprecedented levels."

Also present were members of Harif, an organisation that represents Jews living in the Middle East and North Africa. Its leader, Lyn Julius, said: "The conditions faced by minorities living in the region have reached a nadir."

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