US 'fully engaged' in case of Sudanese woman sentenced to die for Christian faith

American diplomats are “fully engaged” in the heart-wrenching case of Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death earlier this month after refusing to renounce her Christian faith, has learned.

Ibrahim, 27, gave birth to a girl early Tuesday at a prison clinic in Omdurman, near Khartoum, one of her attorneys told by phone. Ibrahim, who is married to a Christian man with U.S. citizenship, has been sentenced to hang for apostasy and is now allowed to breast-feed her daughter, Maya, for two years before the punishment is carried out. She also faces 100 lashes for adultery – for being intimate with her husband, Daniel Wani, who fled to the United States as a child to escape the civil war in southern Sudan, but later returned.


“Through the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, the White House and the State Department, we have communicated our strong concern at high levels of the Sudanese government about this case,” State Department spokeswoman Nicole Thompson wrote in an email. “We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight. We have conveyed these views to the Government of Sudan.”

International outrage against Ibrahim’s sentence has grown significantly in recent weeks, as more than a million people signed online petitions protesting the sentence. One such effort on has garnered more than 630,000 signatures as of Friday, and Amnesty International officials have characterized the punishment doled out by a judge to be a “flagrant breach” of international human rights law. It’s also a violation of Sudan’s own Constitution, according to the State Department.

“We call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 interim Constitution,” Thompson’s email continued. “We call on the Sudanese legal authorities to approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees U.S. policy in Africa, has called on the African nation to reverse Ibrahim’s sentence immediately.

“The refusal of the government of Sudan to allow religious freedom was one of the reasons for Sudan’s long civil war,” Smith said in a statement.

It is not clear what diplomatic pressure the U.S. can bring to bear on Khartoum. Although American taxpayers send roughly $300 million per year in economic aid, the help is largely in the form of food and medicine. Cutting it off would only hurt the people, and not the regime of President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court.

Ibrahim and Wani married in 2011 and operate several businesses, including a farm, south of Khartoum, the country’s capital. Wani is not permitted to have custody of the couple’s son, Martin, because the boy is considered Muslim and cannot be raised by a Christian man. Sudan's penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death. Anyone born to a Muslim father is automatically a Muslim.

Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August, when members of her father’s family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. They claimed her birth name was “Afdal” before she changed it to Meriam. The document produced by relatives to indicate she was given a Muslim name at birth was reportedly fake. She also refused to answer a judge who referred to her as “Afdal” during a court hearing earlier this month where she declared that Christianity was the only religion she knew.

“I was never a Muslim,” she told a judge. “I was raised a Christian from the start.”

Ibrahim’s husband, who reportedly suffers from muscular dystrophy, was initially not allowed to visit with his wife after the birth of their daughter, human rights attorney Safwan Abdalmoniem told Wani was ultimately allowed to see his wife and child by Thursday, two days after the girl’s birth. Ibrahim now remains in a prison hospital wing in deplorable, “inadequate” conditions, Abdalmoniem said.

“The conditions there for a woman in a situation like herself is very bad,” he said. “It’s not good.”

It remains unclear when Ibrahim will receive 100 lashes as part of her sentence, but the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies said implementation of the punishment is subject to Ibrahim’s health.

“ACPJS condemns in the strongest terms the application of the death penalty in Sudan and all laws that prescribe torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments,” the group said in a statement. “Ms. Ibrahim has been convicted solely on the basis of her religious beliefs, contrary to equality and non-discrimination guarantees in Sudan’s own Constitution and commitments made by the Government of Sudan under regional and international law.”

Sudanese President Omar Bashir, meanwhile, has said his county will implement Islam more strictly now that the non-Muslim south is gone. A number of Sudanese have been convicted of apostasy in recent years, but they have all escaped execution by recanting their faith.

On Friday, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy blasted Bashir's regime and said inaction by the international community was akin to being complicit in the his crimes against humanity, including systematic rape, murder and torture.

"The Sudanese court’s decision to sentence Meriam Ibrahim to life in prison and physical torture is as repugnant as any attack on human rights," AIFD officials said in a statement. "Freedom of conscience — the freedom to choose any faith or none at all — is a basic and inalienable human right. For every Meriam there are hundreds to thousands more we do not hear about. When will the international community and all individuals of conscience say enough to barbaric regimes like Al-Bashir's?"