120 Days in Chains: Meriam Ibrahim’s Infuriating Incarceration
How the U.S. has failed an American’s Wife on Death Row
Cameron Thomas, Regional Manager for Africa
06/17/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – It’s been four months to the day since Meriam and her son’s initial incarceration. While so much has changed, including the birth of her second child (a daughter named Maya), the United States’ confirmation of her husband’s citizenship, and the filing of her case with the Khartoum Court of Appeals, one glaring fact remains unchanged: Meriam Yahia Ibrahim will be put to death for her Christian faith if the world fails to intervene.
Sudan, designated a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the Department of State since 1999, has perpetrated “ongoing, systematic, and egregious violations of religious freedom” for more than a decade, according the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, ranked the absolute worst of all living dictators according to David Wallechinsky’s The World’s Worst Dictators, has forced Sharia-inspired laws upon the country’s Christians and other religious minorities since his rise to power via a military coup in 1989.
A microcosm for the continent at large, the Sudanese regime is struggling to build a homogeneous ethnic, cultural and racial state on the dividing line of Arabic, Islamic, North Africa and black, Christian and Animist, Sub-Saharan Africa. In the case of Sudan, al-Bashir continues to push the country toward a wholly Arabic and, in his own words, “purely Islamic” identity. To secure the support of gulf state financiers and the Arab League, al-Bashir, under the advice of Hassan al-Turabi (best known as the “Pope of Terrorism”), has harbored terrorists and personally funded terror training camps for the likes of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab.
The Sudanese regime has also implemented Islamization and Arabization policies, under which al-Bashir has oppressed religious minorities, committed state-sponsored genocide against the peoples of the Darfur and perpetrated gross human rights violations, primarily against Christians, other non-Muslims and blacks.
After standing by as al-Bashir’s proxy militia, the Janjaweed (a coalition of ethnically Arab nomadic tribes), slaughtered more than 400,000 innocent civilians, the U.S. and international community intervened in support of southern rebels who, for decades, had been waging war against the central government in Khartoum. That intervention resulted in the creation of the world’s newest country: South Sudan. A state which is now, regrettably, tearing itself apart in a civil war divided along ethnic lines.
And so, the track record has been set. The Obama administration, with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, recognized the Sudanese regime as so illegitimate that it chose to take an active role to “liberate” millions from al-Bashir’s control. And yet, when that same regime placed a mother of two and wife to an American citizen on death row, the Obama administration has not only chosen not to intervene, it has actively impeded her and her children’s release and safe relocation.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a 27-year-old mother of two and wife to Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen, was arbitrarily arrested and detained by Sudan’s Public Order Police on February 17th of this year. She was later charged with and convicted of adultery. Being the daughter of a Muslim father, Meriam is considered a Muslim by birth. In Sudan, Muslim women cannot marry men of another faith. Not only is Meriam’s husband a practicing Christian, Meriam is as well, which makes her an apostate. In Sudan, committing apostasy, or the crime of leaving Islam, is punishable by death. And so, on May 15th, Meriam was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for apostasy after declaring in court, “I am a Christian, and a Christian I will remain.”
Meanwhile, Daniel was actively pleading with the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum for help. The response? A mandate that Daniel and Meriam’s children be administered a DNA test to determine Daniel’s paternity—paternity Sudan’s Sharia court recognized in its determination that Meriam’s children are direct outcomes of and, thereby, evidence for her “adulterous” marriage to Daniel.
While unconfirmed sources have stated that the State Department may now delay the administration of a DNA test until after Meriam and her children are released and safely evacuated from Sudan, the U.S. continues to justify its impediments to ensuring their release and safe relocation. Despite remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry issued hours after a protest ICC co-sponsored took place at the White House demanding U.S. action, the State Department has yet to publicly confirm Meriam and her children will be granted legal protections by the U.S., should they be released. This needs to happen immediately.
Furthermore, President Obama, consistent with his administration’s characteristically lethargic response to the imprisonment of Christians abroad, has failed to publicly address Meriam’s case by name. As ICC’s Advocacy Director, Isaac Six, stated in addressing outraged demonstrators in front of the White House:
Omar al-Bashir is waiting and watching to see if President Obama will take that next critical step to mention Meriam by name. The prison guards in the Omdurman Federal Women’s prison are waiting and watching to see if the President of the United States himself will care enough to mention the innocent woman under their watch by name.
So today, as we stand outside of one of the most influential offices in the world, we call upon President Obama to take that crucial step, to address Meriam Ibrahim by name, and to condemn the Sudanese government for its unconscionable actions.
The need for the U.S. to take decisive action in ensuring Meriam’s release and in stressing the importance of the respect for human rights and religious freedom is pertinent not only to this case, but to the plight of Christians throughout Sudan. Hundreds of thousands of Christians suffer an existence of religious repression, forcibly subjected to the dictates of Sudan’s Sharia-inspired Public Order laws. They remain economically disadvantaged, treated as though foreigners in their own land, and in their own homes.
Just weeks after Meriam’s story broke headlines in the west, Morning Star News published the story of Faiza Abdullah, a 37-year-old Christian who, in applying for a national identification card, was asked her religious preference. Professing Christianity in response, the officers present accused Faiza of apostasy and arrested her immediately. Her case remains outstanding; her fate is unknown.
Throughout Sudan, and throughout the Islamic world, Christians remain susceptible to arbitrary arrest and detention, cruel sentences handed down by Sharia-inspired courts, and violence at the hands of state and non-state actors liberated by their respective cultures of impunity. Without the clear voice of the U.S. and international community resonating in support of universal respect for human rights and religious freedom, the lawful persecution of Christians and other religious minorities will continue. Meriam will be but the tip of a growing iceberg, tearing through the protective hull of the global Church.
In address at this week’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, Secretary Kerry said, “I am also issuing a policy guidance cable directly from me to every single embassy and every single bureau in the United States Department of State…every diplomat and every officer at every level, in order to…advance the status of women and girls in all aspects of our diplomatic work.” Meanwhile, Meriam waits to receive 100 lashes, per the dictates of a Sharia-inspired legal apparatus that specifically targets women, and baby Maya, a United States citizen, languishes in a Sudanese prison.
The disconnect between the promises and actions of this administration has and continues to fail to alleviate the suffering of those it purports to serve.
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