Meriam Yahia Ibrahim’s Fight for Freedom against the Clenched Fists of Clan and Country
Cameron Thomas, Regional Manager for Africa
07/03/2014 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “They feel like they’re still in prison,” the Ibrahims’ defense lawyer told ICC yesterday. Not-so-far removed from the bars that held her and her children captive for 126 days, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim—a mother of two and wife to an American citizen—remains a prisoner of conscience, barred from leaving a country that sentenced her to death for the expression of her Christian faith.
The Ibrahims’ condition has improved significantly since Meriam was acquitted from the death penalty and released from prison. Rather than bearing and birthing a child in shackles, Meriam—along with her husband Daniel, and children, Martin and Maya—has been provided refuge at a “safe location” by the United States.
But, criminal charges of falsifying travel documents and providing false information loom over Meriam’s head, as do a temporary ban on her ability to travel and an outstanding claim by her alleged Muslim family that she belongs in the custody and care of her half-brother, Al Samani Al Hadi Mohamed Abdullah.
In an interview with CNN following Meriam’s release, Abdullah stated that if Meriam did not “repent and return to [her family’s] Islamic faith and to the embrace of [her] family…she should be executed.” He followed that statement with the accusation that “the law has failed to maintain [his family’s] rights,” and that Meriam’s court-ordered acquittal and release is now “a matter of honor.”
“Christians deface [Muslims’] honor,” said Abdullah before threatening that “[Muslims] know how to take revenge for that.”
So, though the staff of the U.S. embassy have seen to meeting the needs of the Ibrahims throughout their time in safe-hiding, Meriam and Daniel have expressed frustrations over theirs and their children’s involuntary stay in Sudan. Speaking again with CNN, Meriam lamented, “I left prison to bring together my children and settle down. I found myself in jail [days after being released] and now there are protests against me in the streets.”
“To be honest, I’m really miserable,” Meriam concluded.
With the Ibrahims safely under the protection of the United States, activists and advocates have had the opportunity to speak directly with Meriam regarding the conditions of her imprisonment, and the revelations have been heartrending. Not only was Meriam shackled for months to the floor of a group prison cell, forced to watch her then 20-month-old son fall ill and to worry for the health of her soon-to-be-born daughter, she was taunted by the Muslim cohort imprisoned alongside her.
In a recent interview, Meriam conveyed that during her imprisonment, “women in prison [were] saying all sorts of things, like: ‘Don’t eat the non-believer’s food.’” Meriam added “even the officers in the prison would join in.” Meriam also revealed that that she was forced to listen to religious leaders demand that she return to Islam, explaining that “a different sheikh [came] to speak to me every other time.”
And now, free from the bars she thought alone were keeping her from escaping her oppressors, Meriam has expressed agony over protests in the streets of Khartoum demanding her acquittal and release be overturned, and that she be whipped and put to death.
But that’s not the whole story. Before Meriam’s tragic case first hit major news outlets in the West, activists were protesting for Meriam’s acquittal and release. In Sudan, an internal struggle continues to boil as hardline conservative and progressive moderate Muslims debate the ideal society they see as the future of Sudan. Some, like President al-Bashir (indicted by the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes and crimes against humanity), believe in a “purely Islamic” Sudan, and are dedicating their every resource to that end. On Thursday, ICC broke the news of the demolition of a church in North Khartoum by Sudanese authorities, rendering 600 congregants without a place of worship. Others, like the members of the Ibrahims’ legal defense, see otherwise, and believe in a pluralistic Sudan in which Muslims and Christians can thrive together, in peace.
The history of Sudan is one exemplary in many ways of the continent generally. Rich with cultural merit, yet oppressed by colonization, plagued by civil war and torn on religious and ethnic divides, Sudan is a country with a layered past and an undetermined future.
In the case of Meriam Ibrahim, the battle over that future has played out on the world stage. Fundamentalists are demanding death to apostates, and insisting that the children of Muslims remain Muslims. Moderates are demanding pluralism, and decrying the al-Bashir regime’s Islamization and Arabization policies, which have resulted in the deaths of more than a million Sudanese and the displacement of millions more. Christians, suffering at the hands of cultural repression and government oppression, are timidly awaiting the outcome, hoping that in the decision of the freedom of a single woman, they can see for themselves a future free of condemnation, legal censure and violence against them and their families for their beliefs.
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