Christian on Death Row for Apostasy: Sudan Dashes Hope for Quick Release

By Patrick Goodenough | June 1, 2014 | 8:54pm EDT

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, in turban, attends a 2009 Arab League summit in Qatar. (AP Photo, File)

( – A day after a senior Sudanese official told media outlets that Meriam Ibrahim, the Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, would be freed within days, Khartoum’s foreign ministry on Sunday clarified that it would happen only if an appeal court rules in her favor.

The conflicting statements were the latest twist in the case of Ibrahim, the wife of an American citizen, who was sentenced to death last month after refusing to recant her Christian faith.

Based on its ruling that Ibrahim was a Muslim because her father was a Muslim, the court also determined that her 2011 marriage – to Daniel Wani, a Sudanese Christian and U.S. citizen – was invalid and consequently sentenced her to 100 lashes for “adultery.”

Pregnant at the time of her conviction and sentence, Ibrahim has since given birth in prison to a baby girl, Maya, who is now incarcerated together with her and their son, Martin, a toddler just under two years old. The court said she would be allowed to nurse her baby for two years before the sentence was carried out.

The front page of the London Times on Friday, May 30, 2014 (Image: The Times)

On Saturday a Sudanese foreign ministry undersecretary identified as Abdullahi al-Azreg told several European media outlets, including the BBC and the Sunday Times, that Ibrahim would be freed within days. In his comment to the BBC al-Azreg, a former Sudanese ambassador to Britain, attributed this to the fact that Sudan guarantees religious freedom.

But amid news reports characterizing the shift as a backing down by Khartoum under international pressure – the Sunday Times said it was set to “cave in to global fury” – the foreign ministry in a statement Sunday tied Ibrahim’s fate to the outcome of a legal procedure, rather than a political decision.

“The defense team of the concerned citizen has appealed the verdict,” it said. “If the appeals court rules in her favor, she will be released.”

Ibrahim’s lawyer Elshareef Ali Mohammed, told Britain’s Channel Four television that the appeals process would take months rather than days, and said al-Azreg’s comments had merely been aimed at quelling the campaign calling for her release.

That campaign has seen diplomatic appeals and protests from several Western governments including the U.S., while hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions calling for Ibrahim’s freedom.

British Prime Minister David Cameron at the weekend became the most senior international figure so far to speak out publicly on behalf of Meriam Ibrahim. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

The most senior international figure to speak out publicly so far was British Prime Minister David Cameron, who in a weekend statement said he was “absolutely appalled” by the death sentence.

“The way she is being treated is barbaric and has no place in today’s world. Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right,” Cameron said. “I urge the government of Sudan to overturn the sentence and immediately provide appropriate support and medical care for her and her children.”

No top-level US statement

The State Department says it has taken up Ibrahim’s case with Sudanese authorities at the level of the Sudanese embassy in Washington and the foreign ministry in Khartoum, and that U.S. embassy officials in Khartoum were also closely monitoring the case.

Some U.S. lawmakers want the administration to do more, with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) spearheading calls for Secretary of State John Kerry to take urgent action to secure Ibrahim’s release and offer her, the wife of an American citizen, political asylum.

The State Department has not acknowledged that Ibrahim and her children are the wife and children of a U.S. citizen, saying it is constrained by the Privacy Act from commenting on the issue in the absence of a signed waiver from Daniel Wani.

(Under the 1974 legislation, government personnel may not release individuals’ personal information from official records without their express written consent. Its refusal to do so in this case does not of itself imply that Wani is a citizen, since the Privacy Act applies both to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent resident aliens.)

“We’re doing everything we can through the proper channels to make clear how strongly we feel about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a briefing on Thursday.

The one thing the administration has not done has been to speak out publicly on the case at the most senior level, as the British prime minister did at the weekend. Neither President Obama nor Kerry is believed to have done so.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. (UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz)

The most senior administration official to have mentioned the Ibrahim case publicly has been Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power, who during a commencement speech at the Harvard Kennedy School last Wednesday said, “An educated girl will question the values of a justice system that sentences a woman to death, simply because of her religion or that of the man she loves, as happened two weeks ago in Sudan to a woman who, just yesterday, gave birth to a child in prison.” (Power also earlier tweeted that the death sentence was “outrageous.”)

On Thursday, a reporter asked White House press secretary Jay Carney during a briefing whether he had any condemnation for “horrible crimes” committed against women in several countries, referring to the Ibrahim case in Sudan, the public stoning to death of a woman in Pakistan, and a gang rape and murder of two teenage girls in rural India.

“I don’t have any presidential communications to read out to you,” Carney replied. “And I think the State Department, as a general matter, has addressed some of the crimes that you reference.”

“ Obviously, this is an issue that the president believes is very important,” he continued. “He believes that providing equal rights to women, providing access to education to women, providing economic opportunity to women is the key around the world to a better society in countries around the world and to stronger economic growth in nations around the world and to more democratic governments around the world. So the kinds of things you reference are, of course, very concerning to him.”

Petitions calling for the release of Meriam Ibrahim: (738,000+ signatures)

American Center for Law and Justice (307,000+ signatures)

Amnesty International (almost 230,000 signatures)

White House “We the People” (31,800+ signatures)

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