The Release of Meriam Ibrahim?

miThe Government of Sudan is attempting a public relations outreach (a.k.a. “charm offensive”). Khartoum has been stung by the reaction of the international community to its treatment of Sudanese Christian mother Dr. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, incarcerated in a Khartoum prison with her 20-month-old son, Martin, and as of May 27, 2014, with her newborn daughter, Maya.  Khartoum’s charm offensives – in which the ruling National Congress Party officials assume a humane veneer, declaring their commitment to peace, always – usually are reserved for the U.S. State Department and Foreign Service personnel, naïve Christian peacemakers, and others afflicted with willful blindness. This tactic of pleasant conversation over cups of cardamom-spiced coffee, cloaking genocide in diplomacy and cultural diversity, has enabled the regime to survive for decades.

The Meriam Ibrahim Offensive began just days after the shocking ruling of Judge Abbas al Khalifia that Dr. Ibrahim be hanged for apostasy. The Sudanese Embassy in Washington, DC released a statement to assuage the concerns of those who heard of the death sentence. In that zany way in which President Omar al Bashir’s government lies and tells the truth simultaneously, the statement declared that “The Case of Mariam is neither religious nor political, it is Legal.” (It omitted the fact that the legal case against Ibrahim is Islamic law, the Shariah. Both Ibrahim’s marriage and her religious faith violate the Shariah.) The statement also reaffirmed the Government of Sudan’s commitment to human rights and freedom of belief, and very prettily thanked “all those who have raised their concern and sympathy on this issue.”

But the international community did not fall for this typical Sudanese diplomacy, not when it comes to shackling a pregnant mom and a toddler to a prison wall to wait for her eventual flogging and hanging. Most rational people around the world do not hear Meriam’s story and think “Oh, a law violator! She must be punished!”

Instead, the world sees the plight of a courageous Christian woman, who has refused to renounce her faith. It sees a little boy shackled in prison with his mother because the Sudanese government will not allow his Christian father to have custody of a child they consider to be Muslim. It sees a tiny baby girl, in squalid, disease-ridden conditions. The world sees a loving husband and father, Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese Christian who made a good life in a new country, and became an American citizen and a biochemist. They see himWani now, separated from his family, suffering from muscular dystrophy, bereft. And so protest letters and petitions condemning Ibrahim’s apostasy sentence continue to land at the Massachusetts Avenue doors of the Sudanese Embassy, and to also wing their way to Khartoum, in spite of the Sudanese government’s efforts to reduce a family tragedy to a “legal issue.”

Therefore, as of Saturday, May 31, the Khartoum regime has gone into a second phase of its charm offensive, hinting coyly that Ibrahim may soon be released. Foreign Ministry Under-Secretary Abdelah Al-Azrak told Reuters News Service that government authorities in the country are “working to release” Ibrahim “through legal measures.”

Al-Azrak also told the BBC that Sudan “guaranteed religious freedom and was committed to protecting the woman.” Oddly, Ibrahim’s team of attorneys, nor her husband had not been advised of this development before the foreign ministry spoke the news agencies, nor have they been contacted since. The Daily Mail, which has provided some of lead reporting on Ibrahim’s treatment revealed that her lawyers “do not believe the offer is genuine, and is a ploy to silence the growing outcry.”

Speaking to The Telegraph on May 31, Ibrahim’s attorney, Elshareef Ali Mohammed said,

“It’s a statement to silence the international media. This is what the government does. We will not believe that she is being freed until she walks out of the prison.”

Hopefully, the United States and other Western nations that are putting pressure on Khartoum will not be gullible either. Too often, the U.S. government has trusted the promises and declarations of Khartoum, and while the U.S. has acted according to the “carrots” it has promised the Sudan government for good behavior, the regime has failed to honor its promises. Whether the U.S. has offered any incentives to Khartoum to release Ibrahim is not known, but her imprisonment has drawn international outrage. It would seem possible that Khartoum has felt the sting and decided that the approval of the world for pardoning Ibrahim outweighs the approval of the hard-core Islamists who want her dead. As attorney Mohammed said, “It shows our campaign to free Meriam is rattling them. We must keep up the pressure.”

While the world community, members of the U.S. Congress, and the British government – including both Prime Minister David Cameron and the Foreign Office, put pressure on Khartoum, the regime continues its shameless pressure on Ibrahim to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. The Daily Mail quoted a spokesperson from the US-based Sudan Justice Center who said that “they have been promising Meriam money and security if she becomes a Muslim.” According the Center, Muslim clerics spend almost the whole day in her cell, telling her to give up her Christian faith. “They have said they will protect her and her family if she does what they want.”

In addition, The Telegraph reported that the Bashir government recently sent some 10 employees of the state-controlled press to see Ibrahim, photograph her, and publish a series of articles claiming that she was actually a practicing Muslim.

“They wrote that she prayed five times a day and read the Koran – which is totally not true,” Ibrahim’s attorney Mohammed told The Telegraph. “She didn’t want to talk to them but did not have the right to say no. They took photos and filmed her, and she did not like the photos. She asked them to delete the photos, but they said no.” Then they further tormented her by showing her their articles published in the government-owned Hikayat, Al Dar, Al Sudani, and Al Intibaha. Al Intibaha is owned by the uncle of President Bashir. Mohammed said that Ibrahim was very upset by this and that the attorneys were angry “because it could influence the court of appeal.”

If Ibrahim should be released, continued pressure is needed to ensure her safety and that of her children — both American citizens by virtue of Wani – and the safety of her husband and attorneys. Pressure is also needed on the other player in the matter, the U.S. State Department, to obtain the spousal visa that rightfully belongs to Dr. Ibrahim, or alternately, political asylum.

Wani’s pleas to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum were ignored not once, but three times. The State Department needs to be reminded that little Maya joins brother Martin as what must surely be the youngest American citizens incarcerated in a Sudanese prison. Maya probably also holds the dubious honor of being the only American citizen born in a Sudanese prison – and definitely the only American citizen born in a Sudanese prison to a mother who was kept in shackles during labor.

Advocates will not relax the pressure on the Khartoum regime to halt the draconian implementation of Shariah law under which most of the people of Sudan are suffering. The treatment of this little family by the regime is not unusual. Christian persecution, Arab imperialism, slavery, and genocide which demonstrate the hypocrisy of the National Congress Party Government of Sudan’s claim that it is committed to “all human rights and freedoms of beliefs” span the length and width of the country. Khartoum is currently waging genocidal war in at least three regions of Sudan – the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, and Darfur. In the space of four days, May 27-30, the Sudanese air force dropped 55 bombs on Kauda town in the Nuba Mountains. On May 1 it bombed the only hospital in the Nuba Mountain war zone for two days in a row. And the regime is similarly waging violent jihad in Blue Nile State and Darfur.

Ibrahim’s situation has been a microcosm of both the abuse of human rights perpetrated by Sudan, and of U.S. foreign policy in response to that situation. There have been valiant efforts, particularly by members of Congress, and there has been neglect and apathy. But the plight of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim has put a face, actually four faces, on Sudan’s human rights abuses and enabled people around the world to witness the personal rather than theoretical implications of Shariah.

Is it possible that this growing, massive awareness will not only result in the kind of push needed to pressure the U.S. government to demand Dr. Ibrahim’s freedom, but also result in the kind of ongoing push required for it to no longer fall for Khartoum’s charm offensives and to take actions needed so desperately in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile State, Darfur, and everywhere that the Sudanese government is violating human rights?

Faith J. H. McDonnell directs the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Religious Liberty Program and Church Alliance for a New Sudan and is the author of Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda’s Children (Chosen Books, 2007).

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  • Lysander Spooner

    That’s weird. Just yesterday there was a breitbart.com story by Faith J.H. McDonnell titled: Sudanese Christian’s Release A Testament To The Power Of Advocacy. I was skeptical then and it looks like now Faith is too.

    Her release will hardly be a guarantee of safety; Islamic mobs are very helpful in carrying out the will of the Islamic state, either officially or unofficially.

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    • UCSPanther

      That woman’s only hope, will be to flee Sudan…

  • faithmcdonnell

    Did you actually read my Breitbart article, Lysander Spooner? The title I had used had been abbreviated and sounded much more optimistic than the actual article. Working in Sudan advocacy for 20 years, I know the nature of the Khartoum regime. Nevertheless, the outrage and response from people in the US and around the world has been swift and strong — something we failed to achieve for years against actual genocide in South Sudan.

    • Orpheus

      Don’t feed the troll!

    • Lysander Spooner

      I thought I read it. I just read it again. I actually read the following sentence:

      “Khartoum felt the sting and decided that the reward of pardoning Ibrahim outweighs the approval of the hard-core Islamists who want her dead.”

      Except they didn’t.

      I believe we’re on the same side in this battle, and perhaps my antagonistic approach leaves room for improvement. But the west is deluding itself about the nature of islam, and the I felt the Breitbart article is a part of that pattern.

      At the risk of your feeding the troll, why does Breitbart abbreviate titles and use titles much more optimistic than the actual articles?

      Oh well. I guess there are reasons I’m banned at Breitbart.com.

      • faithmcdonnell

        My title was just too long. Breitbart is not part of “the pattern,” Breitbart is part of opening people’s eyes.

        The sentence you quoted should be in the context of the whole paragraph (and the whole article). But the whole premise of the article is that if this is true, then we still need to be on our guard and not trust. Khartoum has much, much more to answer for – all of it rooted in the nature of Islam. Not everyone in the west is deluding themselves or others about Islam.

        • Lysander Spooner

          Maybe you and breitbart.com can work to improve your title-writing skills instead of lecturing other people on their reading skills.

          “Khartoum felt the sting and decided that the reward of pardoning Ibrahim outweighs the approval of the hard-core Islamists who want her dead.”

          Among my many shortcomings, I fail to see how context would change the truth or falsity of that declarative statement. I’m also saying they’re going to let her out so an Islamic mob can kill her. And the power of advocacy ain’t gonna be able to do a damn thing about it.

          I wish you well. I won’t be visiting your work at breitbart.com anymore, as I have been banned from posting there. It might have something to do with my politically-incorrect contributions and my unfortunate tendency to point out what I consider to be faults in facts and logic.

          My bad.

  • R.A. McClain

    Excellent article, as was the one yesterday, IF one really read it? At the top of the ‘blame’ list is the US government and State Dept., who, for two years or so, have ignored the request of Wani to allow his wife to immigrate to the US. Couple this with the Khartoum government, which has a long history of genocide and virtually no human rights, and you have a recipe for disaster.

    It appears that the US government, illegally, traded 5 terrorists for a possible-deserter, while it has done NOTHING to help the Wani family AND Pastor Said, held in an Iranian prison. Makes no sense whatsoever. And the US government, now sadly, appears to ignore the plight of Christians worldwide, who are targeted by Islamists.

    And as far as believing that Ibrahim and her US-citizen-children will be released, my guess is Khartoum, as well as other Islamist governments, are so masterful at taqiyya, that believing anything that comes from them should be done very carefully. I hope and pray that they will be released asap.

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  • Orpheus

    DON”T FEED THE TROLLS! Good review. If we don’t keep up pressure on EVERY front (including prayer) she will not be released.

  • Jeanne DeSilver

    When Islamic countries call for human rights they don’t mention that according to their legal documents “human rights mean sharia, and nothing else”.

    • faithmcdonnell

      Very good point, Jeanne DeSilver! We need to continue spreading this information.

  • mjmiddleton1953

    Great article Faith. We simply can not let up on our advocacy and prayers until Meriam and all her family are safely out of Sudan, and until Sudan’s genocidal rulers are held accountable for the deaths of millions of its citizens and the crimes against humanity that it has committed with virtual impunity. Consider what these groups — Al Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haram, Al Shabaab, Lord’s Resistance Army, Janjaweed, Murahaleen, White Army (and many others) — all have in common. First they are all terrorist groups which enslave, rape, torture and slaughter civilians; Second, they all have clear links to the Khartoum regime which has provided support to them of one kind or another over the years.

    • faithmcdonnell

      Exactly, mjmiddleton1953. And of course the White Army is the militia of South Sudanese traitor Riek Machar, who attempted a coup last December.