JUBA, South Sudan (Morning Star News) – A pregnant woman in Khartoum, Sudan raised as a Christian faces the death penalty for “leaving Islam” because her father was Muslim, sources said.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, and her Christian husband also have a toddler son. As marriage to a Christian man is prohibited for a Muslim woman in Sudan, Ibrahim also could be given 100 lashes for “adultery,” the sources said. If convicted of “apostasy” and “adultery,” the whipping and execution would be administered soon after giving birth to her second child, due next month, according to a rights worker for Justice Center Sudan in Khartoum.
“We are fighting for Meriam’s life, freedom, and fair treatment – according to the law, if she had been a Muslim she should be killed soon after she gives birth to her child,” said the rights worker, whose identity was withheld for security reasons.
Married to a South Sudanese Christian who obtained U.S. citizenship several years ago, Ibrahim’s nightmare has included denial of bail, insufficient medical care for both her and her unborn child, beatings in prison and a U.S. Embassy that has offered little help, sources said.
“Meriam needs treatment every month to keep the unborn baby still in the mother’s womb, but no medical help has been allowed,” her husband, Daniel Wani, reported to Justice Center Sudan. “They are denying my wife her rights to fair treatment and my rights to visit and see my son.”
Their 20-month-old son, Martin Wani, is staying in prison with his mother, as Sudanese authorities have prohibited the boy’s father from caring for him because he is a Christian. Ibrahim has been incarcerated since February.
Justice Center Sudan is fighting the court’s charges of apostasy and adultery based constitutional rights to equality and freedom of religion. The center says constitutional rights should outweigh sharia (Islamic law). The Sudanese constitution stipulates Islamic law as a source of legislation, however, and since the secession of South Sudan in July 2011, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to make Sudan a more strictly Islamic country.
Rights workers are trying to pressure the government to give Ibrahim, a medical doctor who graduated from Khartoum University, fair treatment in prison and allow the baby to be with his father.
Accusing Wani of converting a Muslim woman to another religion and marrying her – although Sudanese law does not explicitly ban proselytism – authorities have taken Wani’s passport and forbidden him to travel.
Sudan’s notorious Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif in Khartoum North charged Ibrahim with apostasy and adultery on March 4, sources told Morning Star News. No one has been executed for apostasy in Sudan since the Sudan Criminal Code of 1991 made it punishable by the death penalty.
The couple also faces cancellation of their marriage, rights workers said.
“According to Islamic laws, if a Muslim woman gets married to a non-Muslim man, then their marriage is not acknowledged legally,” one rights worker said. “She is then committing adultery, and her children are not recognized by law as children of legal marriage. That is why she is facing the charges.”
Khartoum state’s “public order” laws are based largely on strict Islamic law and give Public Order Police and judges wide latitude in arresting and sentencing suspects.
Ibrahim was born in a small town in western Sudan to an Ethiopian Orthodox mother and a Muslim Sudanese father. Her father disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old, and her Ethiopian Orthodox mother raised her in the Christian faith, sources said.
When life became hard for her and her mother, they decided to move to Khartoum in search of better school opportunities for Ibrahim and employment for her mother, sources said. Finding refuge in a neighborhood in Khartoum, they connected with a small church, and their lives moved on, according to Justice Center Sudan.
Ibrahim progressed in school and graduated from the prestigious School of Medicine at Khartoum University. Her mother died in 2011, leaving Ibrahim with a small but supportive community. She and Wani met at her church when he was visiting Khartoum from the United States; they soon fell in love and were married in a small church ceremony in Khartoum in 2012, Wani said.
Last year someone who said he was a relative of Ibrahim opened a case against them in Halat Kuku Court of Khartoum North for alleged “adultery” under article 146 of the Sudan Criminal Code because of her marriage to a Christian, rights workers said. Wani was accused of proselytizing a Muslim, and eventually authorities added the apostasy charge to Ibrahim.
Three witnesses from western Sudan came to Khartoum in March of this year to testify of Ibrahim’s lifelong Christian faith, they said.
“I am a Christian,” Ibrahim told the court in Khartoum on March 4, having provided her marriage certificate showing that she was a Christian and that the wedding ceremony was conducted in a Christian chapel in Khartoum in 2012.
Though no one has been executed for apostasy in Sudan since the 1991 law took effect, courts have forced people accused of leaving Islam to renounce their faiths.
While in jail Ibrahim has been abused physically and emotionally, according to her husband. Muslim scholars have been visiting her, telling her to “turn back” to the religion of her father, but she has refused, he said.
One of the prison guards, Kawther Hassen, has mistreated Ibrahim and not allowed visitations or medical help. Her husband told Morning Star News that that a Muslim woman in the jail has incited other Muslims to make life difficult for Ibrahim.
“She is psychologically tired,” Wani said. “My wife was never a Muslim. As an American citizen, I ask the people and government of the USA to help me.”
The couple’s toddler boy is a U.S. citizen by virtue of his father’s U.S. citizenship, but Wani said U.S. Embassy officials in Khartoum have told him he must prove he is the father with a DNA test before they would try to help.
“I will have to take a DNA sample in Khartoum, then send it to the USA for testing,” Wani said. “I have provided wedding documents and the baby’s birth certificate, and doors were closed on his face.”
Wani told Morning Star News that when he called the U.S. Embassy on April 9, a representative in Khartoum told him they did not care about the case.
“I have tried to apply for papers to travel to the USA with my wife and child, but the American Embassy in Sudan did not help me,” Wani said. “My son is an American citizen living in a difficult situation in prison.”
U.S. Embassy personnel declined to speak about the matter to Morning Star News.
At a hearing for Ibrahim on April 18, the court requested more witnesses to testify that she never practiced Islam, according to attorneys. Wani said those wishing to help can contact Justice Center Sudan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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