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Reports of Sudanese woman’s release are denied

06 June 2014


Suffer the children: a baby cries while being weighed at a feeding centre in the village of Lul, South Sudan, on Sunday

Suffer the children: a baby cries while being weighed at a feeding centre in the village of Lul, South Sudan, on Sunday

CONFUSION surrounds the fate of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman condemned to death for alleged apostasy (News, 16 May).

On Saturday, a Sudanese official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Mrs Ibrahim, who was born to a Muslim father but brought up as a Christian, would be freed from prison within days. But, only hours later, this had been denied by a spokesman for the ministry, Abu Bakr al-Sideeg, who said that only the judiciary in Sudan could overturn the death sentence, which she has already appealed against.

Mrs Ibrahim, who gave birth to a daughter last week while still in shackles, remains in prison in Omdurman with her baby and two-year-old son, Martin (News, 30 May). Her husband, Daniel Wani, has told the BBC that reports of her release were just "rumours", and that he was waiting for her appeal to he heard.

Mrs Ibrahim, who is 27, was sentenced to death for her alleged apostasy last month, and was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery; the court sees her as a Muslim, and therefore considered her marriage to a Christian illegal under Sudan's laws, which prohibit interfaith marriage (News, 23 May).

Supporters of the international campaign to free Mrs Ibrahim include Tony Blair, David Cameron, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Hillary Clinton.

The Head of Africa and the Middle East for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Dr Khataza Gondwe, told The Sunday Times that he believed that the Sudanese government was only announcing her possible release to ease the pressure upon it.

"They [the Sudanese] have a track-record of buying time by making promises which they don't keep," he said. "The worry is that the campaign loses momentum, and then, if they renege on any promise, the world's attention has moved on.

"Whatever happens in this case, the fundamental problem remains that the state's constitution appears to guarantee religious freedom and the right to change religion, but the judiciary operates by different rules."

The International Development Secretary, Justine Greening, said on Tuesday that while Mrs Ibrahim's appeal is being heard she should be released from prison.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Mrs Ibrahim appealed to the African Commission on Human and People's Rights, which has the authority to suspend her sentence. Sudan is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights which established the Commission in 1986.

This appeal has been backed by a number of African and Western human-rights organisations, including the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, and a British-based campaign group, Redress.

Dr Lutz Oette, a law lecturer at the School of Oriental and African Studies who helped to draft the appeal, told The Times on Tuesday: "Given the urgency of the matter, and the worldwide attention to the case we would expect that [the commission] would act as quickly as possible.

"Unfortunately, Sudan's record of compliance has been weak. But that doesn't mean that they have no obligation to comply, and it doesn't mean they won't comply in this case."

A protest outside the Sudanese embassy in London, jointly organised by Christian Voice and the Brit-ish Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA), was due to take place today.

A statement from Redress on Monday described the conditions in which Mrs Ibrahim is being held.

"The prison is notoriously overcrowded, and the medical care provided is insufficient, resulting in appalling conditions for inmates. Her situation is aggravated by the fact that she is routinely shackled, which makes it very difficult for her to look after her children."

UNLESS the fighting stops, there will be no South Sudan by the end of this year, a church leader in South Sudan said last week, writes Madeleine Davies.

The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, the Revd Peter Gai Lual Marrow, suggested that the number of deaths could exceed those incurred during the civil war with the North: "If the conflict continues until the end of the year, there will be no South Sudan. . . It will devastate the whole land completely."

The latest data from the UN suggests that, in addition to the thousands of people killed, more than a million people in South Sudan have been internally displaced, and 360,000 people have fled abroad. More than 95,000 people are sheltering in UN bases. Four million people are in need of humanitarian aid.

Speaking on Thursday of last week, Mr Marrow cautioned against probing the causes of the conflict: "The people of South Sudan don't want to reveal the facts behind the conflict now, but it will come later on.

"Our concern is only to mind about the innocent suffering of the innocent people - that is the priority, and later on people can talk about it, because even now in the Church we are very careful not to exaggerate and talk about things that can add to the bitterness."

He acknowledged that the country was suffering from disunity: "[It is] completely divided, even when people are displaced. If they identify themselves, they can even fight them. Even inside the UN site in Malakal, people are fighting and dying. Communities who were just being together are divided sadly, and no mercy at all, all the women taking refuge they again meet another problem within that camp."

Mr Marrow, who is one of the church leaders facilitating the peace process in South Sudan, suggested that the Church could bring harmony: "We talk about bringing people together again: you need to be in their midst, you cannot leave. It's better to come closer and talk to people, and see what divided them, and, even more, what can unite them."

His primary concern is the urgent humanitarian needs on the ground. Christian Aid's senior advocacy and policy officer for East Africa, Natalia Chan, warned that, during South Sudan's rainy season, two-thirds of the country was inaccessible by road. "We are calling on donors not to cut development funding and divert it to humanitarian funding," she said.

"We need to have funding and a long-term commitment. This is an entirely preventable crisis if we act now. Timing is crucial."

The UN is seeking $1.8 billion from donors, about 40 per cent of which has been received.

A South Sudanese bishop has laid the blame for the country's continuing conflict at the feet of its leaders.

The Bishop of Wau, the Rt Revd Moses Deng Bol, told the Anglican Communion News Service that South Sudan's leaders were all former rebel commanders who had not yet become responsible politicians.

A peace deal was agreed between the battling factions, but it has not led to a cessation of violence on the ground.

Bishop Deng also said that the Church was working hard to bring peace. "The Anglican Church cuts across ethnic divides and we are working hard to ensure that the Church remains united as it is the only institution which will facilitate reconciliation of our people.

"Had it not been for the Church, South Sudan would not be where it is today, but could have been worse than Somalia."

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