Sudanese doctor Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, a graduate of the University of Khartoum Medical School, is the beautiful wife of an American citizen, Daniel Wani, originally from South Sudan. Their 20-month old son, Martin, whose sweet smile shines from a recent photograph, is soon to be joined by a baby brother or sister, as Ibrahim is nine months’ pregnant. Soon after Ibrahim and Wani were wed, in December 2011, Wani applied to his government, the United States government, for a spousal visa to bring his wife to America. If there were justice in the world, today the Wani family would be awaiting the birth of a new baby while enjoying the gradual coming of spring in New Hampshire.
There is, however, no justice in the world. Wani and Ibrahim remained in Khartoum and waited for Ibrahim’s visa to be approved, but up until today, this American citizen has not received permission to bring home his wife – and now also his son, who is by virtue of his father a U.S. citizen. “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 told Morning Star News. And on Thursday, May 15, Ibrahim was sentenced to be hanged for apostasy.
Ibrahim has been a Christian her whole life. She was brought up, first in western Sudan, and then in Khartoum, in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith of her Ethiopian mother. But she had the misfortune of having a Sudanese Muslim father. Even though her father abandoned the family when she was 6 years old, in the eyes of Shariah, she is a Muslim. Therefore, she is an apostate for not practicing Islam. Unbelievably, she and little Martin, have been incarcerated since February at Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum.
While Ibrahim was waiting for the U.S. government to grant her a spousal visa, Amnesty International, which is highlighting Ibrahim’s case, says that a distant relative accused her of adultery and reported her to the authorities in August 2013. Ibrahim’s marriage to Wani, a South Sudanese Christian, is not recognized under Shariah. Ibrahim then attempted to defend herself by explaining that she was not a Muslim. This past February she provided to the court her marriage certificate that listed her as a Christian, and the location of the wedding as a church in Khartoum. But this resulted in the young wife and mother being charged with apostasy. The charges fall under Sudan’s Shariah-based Criminal Code, Articles 126 (apostasy) and 146 (adultery). The apostasy sentence carries a punishment of flogging – 100 lashes.
Because of his infidel status, Wani is not recognized as the father of his own children. It’s bad enough that Wani’s parental rights have been violated by the Islamist regime in Khartoum, but less expected has been the lack of support that he has received from the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. He revealed to Morning Star News that the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum expressed “no interest” in helping the family when his wife was arrested and that they have demanded a DNA test from Wani to prove he is the father of Martin before they will attempt to help the toddler.
“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. My son is an American citizen living in a difficult situation in prison,” he declared sadly.
Wani has been prevented from seeing his wife and child since her incarceration, but reports that she has not received proper medical care for complications for her pregnancy. According to Morning Star News, “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.” Morning Star News added that a prison guard has mistreated Ibrahim and not allowed visitations or medical help, and Wani informed them that “a Muslim woman in the jail has incited other Muslims to make life difficult for her.”
According to Sudanese human rights activist Safwan Abdalmoniem of the Hardwired organization, the Christian woman’s death sentence, pronounced by Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa, came after a three-day period given to her by Khartoum’s criminal court to attempt to persuade her to renounce her Christian faith and convert to (or as they phrase it “return to”) Islam, a process referred to as istitabah in Arabic. The African Center for Justice and Peace Studies revealed that the court sent representatives of several Islamic organizations, including Munazzamat al-Da’wa al-Islamiia, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, to ‘counsel’ Ibrahim on her faith.
According to Middle East Concern, the constant harassment and pressure of the Muslim groups proved fruitless, though. Like untold martyrs before her, on Thursday Ibrahim calmly told the judge that she would not renounce her faith, that she was a Christian and always had been. Independent Online noted that Judge Al-Khalifa addressed Ibrahim by the Muslim name Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah, “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death.”
Reports from the sentencing indicate that the judge instructed that her execution be carried out two years after the birth of her child. The flogging, however, will take place soon after she gives birth. Morning Star News reported that Ibrahim’s attorneys will file an appeal of the sentence on Sunday (May 18). This will put off execution of any part of the sentence, including the flogging, until there is a ruling.
At the news of the death sentence given to the wife of an American citizen because of her Christian faith, the U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesperson, Marie Harf, released a statement indicating that the U.S. was “deeply disturbed” by the court’s ruling in the Sudan “Apostasy Case.” The rest of the statement is equally tepid. And the statement matches, almost word for word, including the pathetically passive “we understand that the court sentence can be appealed,” a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum on Monday, following the initial pronouncement of the death and flogging sentences.
Both the State Department and U.S. Embassy statements “call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion.” They also appear to appeal to the Islamists’ better angels, calling on the Sudanese legal authorities, “to approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people.” Good luck with that.
What is needed immediately is for pressure on the Obama Administration, particularly the State Department, and on the U.S. Congress, to respect not only Ibrahim’s right to freedom of religion, but to respect the rights of Wani and his son, and the coming baby, American citizens all. The U.S. government must act now to reunite Ibrahim and her son with Wani and to bring the family back to the United States.
Ibrahim’s attorney said today, “Meriam is very encouraged by the international support she is receiving from the international community. She hopes that people stand with her and her family until she gets her freedom.”
Perhaps if the United States government will approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values long held by its citizens, this little family can finally get to their home in New Hampshire, the state whose motto is “Live Free or Die.”
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