23 June 2014

Sudan Frees Christian Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy

Photo: Gabriel Wani/Facebook
Wedding photo of Meriam Ibrahim and Daniel Wani.

Khartoum — A court of appeal in Khartoum cancelled a death sentence issued last month against Meriam Ibrahim for apostasy, the official Sudan News Agency (SUNA) reported on Monday.

"The Court of Appeal in Khartoum North overturned a judgment of the trial court of Haj Youssef and issued a decision to release the prisoner Abrar Hadi Mohammed Abdullah (alias Meriam Ibrahim), after the pleadings submitted by her defence," SUNA said.

Her lawyer later said that authorities released her from jail.

Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy on May 15th and sentenced her to death by hanging after refusing to revert to Islam. The court also sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery as her marriage to a Christian man is considered invalid under Sudan's Islamic Shar'ia law.

Ibrahim, who was reportedly born to a largely absent Sudanese Muslim father, was raised according to her Ethiopian mother's Christian faith.

She has been imprisoned with her 20-month-old son, Martin, since her arrest in December of last year and gave birth to a baby girl in prison on 27 May.

The head of the women's committee at Sudan's National Commission for Human Rights (SNCHR), Meriam Takas, told Sudan Tribune following the court's decision that the Omdurman Women's Prison authority received a judicial order to release Ibrahim if she was not convicted in other crimes, stressing that the order referred both the death and flogging sentences.

Ibrahim's sentence drew widespread international condemnation, with Amnesty International calling it "abhorrent." The US state department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the sentence and called on the Sudanese government to respect religious freedoms.

UK prime minister David Cameron told The Times that he was "absolutely appalled" when he learnt of the death sentence against Ibrahim and called for lifting the "barbaric" verdict.

However, earlier this month Sudan's foreign minister, Ali Karti, said at a joint press conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Bonn that handling the case is governed by a legal appeal process to achieve justice to the satisfaction of all parties, stressing that the government does not interfere in judicial decisions.

Sudan's foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday that the court's decision came within the framework of the independence of judiciary and in fulfillment of the provisions of the law, constitution, and the bill of fundamental rights.

The statement pointed that Sudan faced unprecedented pressure campaign from governments, organisations, international figures, and the media, saying this campaign sought to push the government to interrupt the judicial process and ignore independence of the judiciary and the principle of the separation of powers.

It underscored that the government refused to intervene in the judicial process, noting they continued to remind the international community of the necessity to respect the judiciary and its rulings.

The foreign ministry considered the court decision an opportunity to remind the international community of the continued injustices against 35 million Sudanese people due to unilateral sanctions imposed on Sudan by the United States government since 1997.

It said those sanctions adversely impact importation of live-saving drugs, production inputs, and the development efforts in the country as a fundamental human right, adding that the sanctions also allows confiscation of assets belonging to Sudanese companies and individuals unlawfully which represents a gross violation for human rights and international law.

The statement called on the same governments, organisations, and individuals who expressed concern and demanded release of Ibrahim to express solidarity with the Sudanese people against the unjust unilateral sanctions.

Amnesty international in a statement on Monday described the court's decision to release Ibrahim as "a step towards undoing the horrific injustice visited on her".

"Today's ruling is a small step to redressing the injustice done to Meriam," said Sarah Jackson, deputy director at Amnesty International.

"However, she should never have been prosecuted. Meriam was sentenced to death when eight months pregnant for something which should not be a crime. Furthermore, her abhorrent treatment, including being shackled, violated international human rights law against ill-treatment."

The rights group also said it will continue to urge the Sudanese authorities to repeal provisions that criminalise acts of apostasy and adultery so that nobody else in Sudan has to endure the same ordeal as Ibrahim.

The US state department said today it welcomes the release of Ibrahim and called on Sudan to "repeal its laws that are inconsistent with its 2005 interim constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights".

"These actions would help demonstrate to the Sudanese people that their government intends to respect their fundamental freedoms and universal human rights. And as you know, this is a case we raised quite frequently with the government there and welcome today's news," deputy spokesperson Marie Harf told reporters.

The Popular Congress Party (PCP), led by Islamist figure Hassan Al-Turabi, previously described the death penalty against Ibrahim as "a scandal, extremism, and intellectual backwardness", saying there is no punishment for apostasy in Islam.

Kamal Omar, PCP's political secretary said at a press conference last week that freedom of belief is an asset of Islam, noting the death sentence against Ibrahim is a violation of the basic principles of Islam.

He emphasised that PCP leader and members are against the conviction of Ibrahim, describing the judge who issued the apostasy sentence as "ignorant".

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