19 May 2014

Sudan: Growing International Outrage Over Sudan's Apostasy Death Sentence

Geneva — There is growing international outrage over the decision by a Sudanese court to sentence a pregnant Christian woman to death after she refused to renounce her faith. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, was convicted of apostasy and adultery on 11 May and sentenced to death and 100 lashes for the respective charges.

CALLS FOR US TO INTERVENE

US Republican senator Frank Wolf has called on president Barack Obama to personally intervene in the case and offer Ibrahim political asylum, saying "the clock is ticking".

"The administration must urgently act to save this innocent woman's life. President Obama should immediately appeal for her release and offer safe haven," said Wolf in remarks on the House floor on Tuesday.

His comments follow earlier calls from congressman Trent Franks, who also co-chairs the International Religious Freedom Caucus, for the state department to step in on Ibrahim's behalf.

"Such blatant disregard for the value of human life - and religious freedom - is an indescribable disgrace," he said in a 15 May statement.

Meanwhile, Bukhari Afandi, the chargé d'affaires at the Sudanese embassy in London, was on Monday summonsed to a meeting at the UK Foreign Office, where political director Simon Gass expressed his deep concern over the recent decision.

Gass also pressed Afandi to urge his government to uphold its international obligations on freedom of religion and to do all it can to get the decision overturned.

The UK's minister for Africa, Mark Simmonds, has described Meriam's sentencing as "barbaric".

"I am truly appalled that a Sudanese court has sentenced Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to death for apostasy," he said following the sentencing. "This barbaric sentence highlights the stark divide between the practices of the Sudanese courts and the country's international human rights obligations."

CONDEMNATION FROM RIGHTS EXPERTS

A group of United Nations human rights experts have also condemned the sentencing, labelling Ibrahim's conviction as "outrageous" and calling for her immediate release.

In a statement issued on Monday, they called on the Sudanese government to repeal all legislation that discriminates on the grounds of gender or religion and embark on a comprehensive reform of the justice system in compliance with international standards.

Ibrahim, who is 27 years old, was born to an Ethiopian Christian mother and a Sudanese Muslim father, who was largely absent from her childhood.

She married her husband, a South Sudanese-born US citizen, with whom she has a 20-month-year-old son, in 2012. Under Sudan's Islamic Shari'a law, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man, thus any such union is considered adulterous.

She was arrested in 2013 after a relative reported her to authorities. An additional charge of apostasy, or publicly renouncing Islam, was brought against her in February after she asserted that she was not a Muslim.

The UN experts asserted that the right to marry and start a family was a fundamental human right of both women and men and that "the criminalisation of sexual relations between consenting adults is a violation of their right to privacy under international human rights law".

Folllowing her conviction, Ibrahim was given until her next scheduled hearing on 15 May to convert to Islam, with a public order court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum subsequently confirming the death sentence for apostasy after she refused.

The rights experts said neither adultery nor apostasy could be considered crimes under international law.

"Choosing and/or changing one's religion is not a crime at all; on the contrary, it is a basic human right," they said.

Ibrahim is currently incarcerated at Omdurman's Women Prison near Khartoum with her young son.

The sentence, if upheld, is expected to be carried out after she gives birth and her baby is fully weaned.

WOMEN REMAIN VULNERABLE

Sudan's population is predominantly Muslim, but there is a Christian minority, particularly in the southern region.

Minority groups, including women, remain particularly vulnerable to rights abuses due to the prevailing patriarchal and traditional attitudes in Sudan and often face punishments disproportionate to the alleged offence.

"There is a pressing need to address the pattern of discrimination, abuse and torture as well as the subjugation and denigration of women in the country," said the experts.

"We urge the Government of Sudan to put an end to these grave violations of women's human rights," they added.

The statement was issued on behalf of nine human rights experts, who are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council.

Special Procedures is a body of independent experts tasked with monitoring, reporting and advising on human rights issues around the world.

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