No U.S. Consular Service for Meriam

U.S. Embassy in Khartoum ignores and mistreats Meriam's U.S. citizen husband.

meriam in prison 2On YouTube there is a video of the punishment for adultery that will soon be meted out to Sudanese Christian Dr. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim unless the United States government intervenes on her behalf. But some disturbing information revealed by Meriam’s husband, Daniel Wani, a naturalized U.S. citizen, suggests that “not leaving behind” this wife of an American citizen may not even be contemplated by the Obama Administration without strong pressure from caring advocates.

The video, featuring a terrified young Sudanese woman being whipped in front of onlookers at a Khartoum police station is so disturbing that it has been age-restricted by YouTube. Even her distress anticipating the flogging looks physically painful itself. Meriam has already had weeks to anticipate her upcoming flogging. She is to receive 100 lashes for her marriage to a South Sudanese Christian. Because the Shariah court in Khartoum considers her a Muslim, it does not recognize her marriage to Wani.

Meriam’s suffering will not end with the agony of lashes. That punishment will be followed within two years’ time by her execution for apostasy. The delay is because the court will wait until her newborn baby, Maya, has been weaned. Meriam will then be killed, according to Shariah, for the crime of refusing to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ and “revert” to Islam.

While waiting to be hanged, Meriam, 27, is shackled to the wall of the Omdurman Women’s Prison, along with her 20 month-old son, Martin. On May 27, when she gave birth to Maya, she was forced to endure labor on a filthy floor while still in leg irons, according to her distressed husband. Now, nursing Maya keeps her from the gallows, but she is not even permitted to nurse her baby and care for her toddler in peace. She has to suffer the continuous visits of Muslim clerics, attempting to pressure her into conversion.

Current photos of the gaunt inmate Meriam holding baby Maya are shocking after viewing photos of Meriam as Daniel’s beautiful bride. Traded-for-Taliban-terrorists Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl looks in the pink after his five years with Islamists (in spite of President Obama’s excuse for negotiating a deal with the devil being concern for the soldier’s health), compared to Meriam’s deteriorating appearance after just five months in Islamist captivity.

Where are the President’s grand gestures to rescue this young Christian wife of an American? Will President Obama be Meriam’s knight in shining armor, as he has been for Bergdahl?

Sadly, there is no evidence of any planned intervention by the Obama Administration for Meriam and her children. And since Meriam’s sentencing there has been no public statement in her defense coming from that direction. There have, however, been vigorous condemnations from British Prime Minister David Cameron, former U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan Mukesh Kapila, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, and other international leaders.

Wani, a biochemist who has lived in Manchester, New Hampshire since 1998, revealed that while officials from the British and Canadian Embassies and from the European Union have all expressed sympathy and been “incredibly helpful,” the officials at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum have been “entirely unhelpful.” This information has deeply concerned British advocacy organization Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), which has been in ongoing consultation with Daniel and his legal team.

The U.S. Embassy’s neglect began in September 2013 when Meriam, Daniel, and little Martin were all arrested. Daniel’s attorney, Mohamed Mustafa Elnour, (an extremely courageous man – as is the whole legal team) told CSW that the Embassy did not answer Daniel’s call to their direct line for consular assistance or offer any consular aid to wheelchair-bound Wani, who suffers from Muscular Dystrophy. He was held by the Sudanese government for 12 hours before posting bail. Daniel also asked the Embassy for help when there was an attempt to kidnap Martin. Again, there was no response from the Embassy.

After his release, Daniel again sought help at the US Embassy to defend Meriam, but the Embassy told him that they couldn’t help him since Meriam was not a U.S. citizen. They suggested he hire an attorney and “deal with it through the Sudanese legal system,” which means, apparently, that the U.S. Embassy has more respect for Shariah than for the rights of a U.S. citizen.

Of this circumstance, CSW says:

 It is important to note . . . that Daniel also stood accused by the courts of ‘converting a Muslim woman in order to marry her’, in violation of national law. His passport was confiscated and he was barred from travelling by the Sudanese authorities until May, when the courts accepted that he genuinely believed Meriam to be a Christian at the time of their marriage. The failure of the US Embassy to provide consular assistance to a US citizen who was facing such serious charges, along with the fact that his wife and child were imprisoned through this period, is indefensible.

In addition to their unwillingness to help Daniel with the legal battle, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has refused to register Meriam and Daniel’s children as U.S. citizens unless Daniel provides DNA evidence of paternity for both Martin and newborn Maya. Daniel began the process of registering Martin as a U.S. citizen earlier this year. He informed CSW that at an interview with Embassy staff he was “told verbally” that Martin “fulfilled all the requirements.”

With that assurance, Daniel paid the processing fee and initiated an application for Martin’s U.S. passport. When he next presented himself at the Embassy to submit his son’s birth certificate and the payment for the passport, he was instructed to meet with an official called “Candy.” (It seems odd and somewhat condescending that all of the Embassy officials with whom Daniel and his attorneys met were only identified to him by their first name.)

Daniel told CSW that the tone of the interview with Candy was “very aggressive,” and “more like an interrogation.” She asked Daniel about Meriam’s degree from Sudan University, but he refused to answer that question because of Meriam’s legal case going on in the Khartoum court. In response, the Embassy suspended the application for U.S. citizenship/passport for Martin saying that “Daniel had not proven that he knew his wife well.” They told him that they would not resume the process unless Daniel provided DNA evidence of a genetic link.

CSW notes that the U.S. State Department’s own website says “DNA testing is the only biological testing method currently accepted by the Department to establish a biological relationship. However, due to the expense, complexity, and logistical delays inherent in parentage testing, genetic testing generally should be used only in the absence of sufficient other evidence (documentation, photos, etc.) establishing the relationship.”

Daniel provided his and Meriam’s marriage certificate, the birth certificates listing him as the father, as well as family photos, to “establish the relationship.” Certainly the U.S. Embassy should consider the incarceration of both children in a Sudanese prison as complex enough of a reason to accept the already sufficient evidence that Daniel has provided in documentation and photos. In addition, if the State Department had provided a spousal visa for Meriam to travel to the United States with Daniel soon after their wedding when he had applied for it, none of these other encounters would have been necessary.

At Daniel and Elnour’s most recent meeting at the U.S. Embassy on June 2 they met with “Kate” and “Chris.” Attorney Elnour described the meeting as “antagonistic, with Daniel fighting for his family and the Embassy staff being totally unhelpful.” The Embassy still insists on DNA evidence that Martin and Maya are Daniel’s children even now that it knows that if Meriam is executed her children will be given to the same Muslim relatives who had her arrested. They offered no assistance to Daniel, but had him sign a “Privacy Waiver” that allows the State Department to respond to questions from Congress and the media about the case.

Ann Buwalda, immigration attorney and director of Christian human rights group Jubilee Campaign, called the Embassy’s demand that Daniel produce a DNA test “a reprehensible display of obstruction and contrary to mandates of U.S. immigration law.” In an email blast to Jubilee Campaign supporters, Buwalda said that the group’s Netherlands office has produced a report showing how the verdicts given in Meriam’s case contravene international law and even Sudanese law.

Unlike the Administration, the U.S. Congress is attempting to help Meriam in a number of ways. Members have introduced and even already passed resolutions in both Houses. But all of these efforts need to be unified, sending the same message and asking for the same thing. If advocates for this beleaguered family want Congress to take most efficient and reliable path to saving Meriam and her children and assisting Daniel, Buwalda has several recommendations.

First, representatives and senators should be pressed to personally call the U.S. State Department to protest the outrageous requirement of DNA testing, to demand the immediate issuance of U.S. passports to Martin and Maya, U.S. citizen children, and to request the U.S. Consulate to issue Meriam an emergency travel document called a Significant Public Benefit Parole. Second, Buwalda said that Congress should be urged to pass a Private Bill granting immediate U.S. citizenship to Meriam Yahya Ibrahim. Finally, advocates should write to the Sudan Embassy to demand that Sudan release Meriam immediately since there is no legal basis for her conviction.

The definition of a consul includes “assisting his or her government’s citizens in a foreign country.” Sadly, neither consul nor government is assisting this U.S. citizen and his family in a foreign country. But hundreds of thousands of Americans and people around the world are outraged by the plight of Meriam, Daniel, and their children. They must be the consuls. They must use their voices, their advocacy, and their influence to assist a fellow U.S. citizen, to reunite him with his wife and children, to save Meriam.

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