Originally published in Barnabus Fund
A pregnant Christian woman could face the death penalty for apostasy, leaving Islam, in Sudan, because she was born to a Muslim father. She has also been charged with adultery for marrying a Christian man.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim (27), who is due to give birth this month, has been detained since February. Her 20-month-old son, Martin Wani, is in jail with her. She has suffered beatings, emotional abuse and pressure to convert to Islam, and been denied medical care and visitors while in jail.
Meriam was charged with apostasy and adultery on 4 March after a man who said he was a relative brought a case against her and her husband, Daniel Wani. Apostasy is officially punishable by death in Sudan, while adultery carries a penalty of 100 lashes.
A rights worker for Justice Center Sudan in Khartoum said: “We are fighting for Meriam’s life, freedom and fair treatment. According to the law, if she had been a Muslim she should be killed soon after she gives birth to her child.”
Considered a Muslim by law
Meriam and Daniel met at church and were married in 2012. Daniel, who is from South Sudan but holds US citizenship, has been accused of converting Meriam from Islam. His passport has been confiscated, and he has been forbidden from travelling. Meriam was born to a Christian mother and Muslim father; the latter left when she was six years old, and she was raised as a Christian. Under Islamic law, which is being strengthened in Sudan following the secession of the mainly Christian South in 2011, the child of a Muslim is considered a Muslim, even if the other parent is not. So Meriam is considered to have left Islam, even though she never practised it.
And as marriage between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man is not permitted under sharia, Meriam and Daniel’s union is not legally recognised: hence the charge of adultery. Their marriage may be annulled. The authorities have refused to allow Daniel to care for his son while his wife is in jail because he is a Christian. He says that he has been unable to obtain any help from the US Embassy in Khartoum despite the fact that he and his son hold American citizenship.
Three witnesses have already testified in court to Meriam’s lifelong Christian faith, but at a hearing on 18 April, the court requested more witnesses to testify that she has never practised Islam.
No one has been executed for apostasy in Sudan in nearly 30 years, but President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has repeatedly stated his intentions to make the country “100% Islamic” following the independence of South Sudan, making converts more vulnerable than ever.