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Outcry over death sentence for Christian’s ‘apostasy’

23 May 2014

Freed: Meriam Ibrahim with her husband, Daniel Wani

Freed: Meriam Ibrahim with her husband, Daniel Wani

THERE has been worldwide condemnation after a Sudanese woman was sentenced to death after being convicted of apostasy.

Meriam Ibrahim, aged 26, was convicted on 11 May, but given four days to reconvert to Islam and escape the death penalty. Mrs Ibrahim, however, who is pregnant, denied that she had ever been a Muslim. The court has postponed her sentence until her child has been born.

She has also been sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery: the sharia court did not recognise her marriage to her Christian husband as legitimate, as it considers her a Muslim.

The death sentence has been denounced by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey. Speaking to The Sunday Times, he said: "Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with Islam at its core that it cannot allow people to change their religion? Moderate Muslims . . . have to say enough is enough."

He also said that British Muslim leaders should publically acknowledge that Muslims could convert to Christianity if they chose.

Reports suggested that Mrs Ibrahim was the daughter of an Ethiopian Christian woman and a Muslim Sudanese man. She was raised as a Christian, however, after her father left the family when she was a young child, according to various news agencies and human-rights groups.

It was unclear what had led to her arrest earlier this year. One Sudanese official, the speaker of parliament Fatih Izz al-Din, told a local radio station on Friday last week that Mrs Ibrahim's brother had filed a complaint after only finding out recently that she had married a Christian. He also claimed that she had been brought up as a Muslim, contrary to other reports.

She married her husband in 2011 and the couple have an 18-month-old son. The advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said in a statement last week that Mrs Ibrahim and her son Martin are currently in prison. Her lawyers have said that they intend to appeal against both the death sentence and the 100 lashes.

Muslim women in Sudan are banned from marrying non-Muslims, and children must follow their father's religion by law. Despite the introduction of sharia in the 1980s, death sentences are rarely carried out.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Sir Tony Baldry MP, has written to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, urging him to lead international efforts to ban all blasphemy and apostasy laws worldwide. In his letter, Sir Tony said: "This is barbarism. A woman being sentenced to death for her religious belief. This has gone beyond being a matter of 'deep concern'. This is an abuse of basic human rights that shames the whole international community.

"We can no longer tolerate the intolerable. There is nothing to prevent the UK taking a lead on this issue, both in the UN Council on Human Rights and the UN General Assembly."

On Thursday, the Anglican Bishop of Khartoum, the Rt Revd Ezekiel Kondo, also condemned the ruling. In a statement, he said: "The verdict reached by the court on Mariam is a clear and direct perscution on Christians and the Church in the Sudan."

He also drew attention to what he claimed was a second alleged apostasy case in Khartoum where a young man has been accused of converting from Islam to Christianity.

The Minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, said in a statement on Thursday last week: "This barbaric sentence highlights the stark divide between the practicesof the Sudanese courts and the country's international human-rights obligations. I urge the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion or belief."

On Friday last week, Sudanese officials suggested that the situation could still change. The official Sudanese state news agency reported that Mr Izz al-Din had also said that the death sentence might not be final and would go through to the supreme court if there was an appeal.

Reuters news agency reported on Friday that a spokesman for Sudan's Foreign Ministry, Abu-Bakr al-Siddiq, said: "Sudan is committed to all human rights and freedom of faith granted in Sudan by the constitution and law."

The statement from CSW also said that Mrs Ibrahim has been prevented from accessing necessary medical treatment and from receiving visitors while she has been incarcerated. Her husband, Daniel Wani, told the Reuters news agency that he feared for his wife's health if she was forced to give birth in prison.

On Monday, the Sudanese Chargé d'Affaires was summoned from his embassy to the Foreign Office by Mr Hague to discuss Mrs Ibrahim's case. A Foreign Office statement said that the diplomat, Bukhari Afandi, was told that the Government had deep concerns about the death sentence, and requested that he urge the Sudanese government to overturn the decision.

The General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, denounced both Mrs Ibrahim's sentence and the forced conversion to Islam of more than 200 Christian schoolgirls in Nigeria after their abduction by Boko Haram (News, 16 May).

Leader comment

Question of the week: Should Muslim states repeal their apostasy laws? 

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