Sudan on U.S. Citizen's Wife Sentenced to Death for Christianity: ‘Freedom of Choice is Cornerstone of...Islam’

May 29, 2014 - 3:28 PM

Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir

Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir (AP Photo)

[This story has been updated to include responses that the Embassy of Sudan made to questions submitted by CNSNews.com.]

(CNSNews.com) - In a statement on a Sudanese court's death-for-apostasy conviction of a Christian mother of two--who is the wife of a U.S. citizen--the Embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C., said on its website "it is important to emphasize that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of both Islam and Christianity."

In response to questions about this statement from CNSNews.com, the Embassy of Sudan repeated its assertion that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of Islam, but declined to say that the Christian mother it is currently imprisoning with her two small children has a right to choose Christianity without being imprisoned or executed by the Sudanese government.

The Sudanese embassy also said of the two children: "It is unfair to accuse the government of Sudan of imprisoning the two infants."

Meriam Ibrahim--the wife of U.S. citizen Daniel Wani and the mother of their 20-month-old son, Martin, and newborn daughter, Maya—has been imprisoned in Sudan along with her children and faces a death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christianity.

“This case remains a legal issue and not a religious or a political one,” said the Sudanese embassy in the statement posted on its website. “It is unwise and dangerous to politicize the issue at hand to spur religious tension between the two peaceful faiths with similar foundations. Notably, it is important to emphasize that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of both Islam and Christianity.”

This statement did not mention Ibrahim’s imprisoned children or her U.S. citizen husband.

On Thursday, CNSnews.com asked two questions of the Embassy of Sudan. The first: On what grounds has the government of Sudan imprisoned the young children of a U.S. citizen? The second: Because the government of Sudan says "freedom of choice is the cornerstone" of Islam, do Meriam Ibrahim and her two children have the freedom to choose to be Christians without being imprisoned or executed by your government?

At 5:00 p.m., the Embassy of Sudan responded as follows:

We stated clearly in our press statement “The Case of Mariam is neither religious nor political, It is Legal."

We regret the fact that you translate that as an endorsement for the ruling. Again our position, this case remains a legal issue and not a religious or a political one, and will be dealt with within our justice system which is an independent and credible one.

It is unfair to accuse the government of Sudan of imprisoning the two infants before verifying the facts. It might be helpful to know that our legal system give the mother the choice of caring for her infants or place them with the people of her choice--for the well being of the children.

We stand with our statement that: that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of both Islam and Christianity. The facts on the ground support that thousand of Sudanese Christian live in peace and harmony with their fellow Muslim brothers and sisters and practice their religious ritual all over the country in a very nice respected and protected churches.

This statement: 1) Did not make clear that Meriam Ibrahim could give her husband Daniel Wani, who is a Christian, custody of their own children. 2) It did not answer the question of whether Meriam Ibrahim and her children have the freedom to choose to be Christians without being imprisoned or executed. 3) It suggested that a justice system could be a "credible one" even if it sentenced a Christian woman to death because she refused to convert to Islam.

So CNSNews.com immediately asked the Embassy of Sudan these follow-up questions: 1) "Will the government of Sudan allow Meriam Ibrahim to give her Christian husband, Daniel Wani, custody or her children?" 2) "Do Meriam Ibrahim and her children have the freedom to choose to be Christians without being imprisoned or executed by your government?" 3) "Can the Sudanese judicial system be 'credible' if it believes justice can be served by sentencing a women to death because she is a Christian who refuses to convert to Islam?"

It was on May 15 that a Sudanese court sentenced Meriam Ibrahim to be flogged for “adultery” and executed for “apostasy.” Her alleged “apostasy” is that she is a Christian whose father was a Muslim. Her alleged “adultery” is her relationship with her husband, a resident of New Hampshire who is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a Christian. Sudan refuses to recognize marriages between a Christian man and a Muslim woman.

As reported this week by Arthur Martin of the Daily Mail, Meriam Ibrahim gave birth within the last week to a daughter, Maya, in the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison in North Khartoum. Meriam has been in that prison with her 20-month-old son, Martin, since February.

The undated statement about the case of Meriam Ibrahim that the Sudanese embassy posted on its website was first reported by the Deseret News on Wednesday afternoon. On Tuesday, the Daily Mail had reported that Ibrahim had given birth to her daughter within the Omdurman prison.

Ibrahim’s husband Daniel Wani, who, according to the Daily Mail, has muscular dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair, has been in Sudan with the aim of having his wife and children return to the United States with him.

“The authorities will not release Martin into the care of his father because they claim he [Martin] is a Muslim too,” the Daily Mail reported.

When Meriam appeared in court on May 15, a Sharia law judge told her that she could escape execution if she renounced her Christianity. She refused.

According to the Daily Mail, when Wani later visited his wife in prison, she said: “I refuse to change. I am not giving up Christianity just so that I can live.

“I know I could stay alive by becoming a Muslim and I would be able to look after our family, but I need to be true to myself,” she said.

“My wife is very, very strong. She is stronger than me,” Wani told the Daily Mail. “When they sentenced her to death I broke down and tears were streaming down my eyes. Our lawyers were passing me tissues. But she stayed strong. She did not flinch when she was sentenced. It was amazing to see, particularly because she is the one facing the death penalty.”

The State Department, citing restrictions imposed by the Privacy Act, has declined to confirm that Daniel Wani is a U.S. citizen. Nor has the State Department said whether Daniel Wani's 20-month-old son, Martin, or newborn daughter, Maya, are U.S. citizens.

At today’s press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said she was not aware of any punitive actions the U.S. government was considering toward the government of Sudan for its treatment of Ibrahim.

According to the Daily Mail, Wani is a biochemist who came to the United States in 1998. “The biochemist returned to Sudan to marry Meriam at a Christian service in a chapel which was attended by around 500 people in December 2011,” the paper said.

The Daily Mail also reported that Meriam’s mother was in Ethiopian Christian who moved to Sudan to escape famine. She married a Muslim man, Meriam’s father, who abandoned the family when Meriam was six. Her mother raised her a Christian. The “apostasy” case against her, the paper reported, was brought by people claiming to be her relatives.

Meriam’s lawyer, Mohaned Mustafa Elnour, told the Daily Mail that the case against her “hinges around the testimony of two men who claim to be her brothers, and one woman who claims to be her mother. In court they claimed that she had disappeared from the family home in a small village in the east of Sudan and then discovered her living in Khartoum, married to a Christian man. But the lawyer said all three witnesses have proven to be liars because their evidence to the court has been highly contradictory. He suggested that the trio are making up their story in an attempt to claim ownership of Meriam’s flourishing general store in a shopping mall on the outskirts of Khartoum.”

Witnesses who could testify on her behalf were barred from testifying because they were Christians, according to the paper.

The statement that the Embassy of Sudan posted on its website claimed that some “have mistakenly accused the government of Sudan of violating human rights by depriving Mariam of her civil rights as a Sudanese citizen.”

“There was no government agency behind the case,” said the embassy's statement, “rather her immediate family had reported their daughter as missing, later and after she was found and claimed that she is Christian, the family filed a case of apostasy against her.

“The ruling of the judge was made at the primary court after hearing all parties involved since February 2014, and it is subject to be implemented in at least two years if confirmed by three levels of courts which are: Appeal Court, Supreme Court and finally the Constitutional Court,” said the statement.

"The Judiciary System of Sudan is independent, and the Sudanese judges are qualified and dignified," it said.

"While reaffirming the commitment of the Government of Sudan to all human rights and freedom of beliefs, the Embassy of Sudan in Washington, D.C. would like to thank all those who have raised  their concern and sympathy on this issue," it concluded.

Meriam Ibrahim’s lawyers are appealing her case.