Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag is quickly becoming a household name around the world. Born in November 1987 in a small town in western Sudan to an Ethiopian Orthodox mother and a Muslim Sudanese father, her father disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old, and her Ethiopian Orthodox mother raised her in the Christian faith. They later moved to Khartoum where her mother died in 2011. Though Meriam is a qualified doctor, she had recently also been running a successful business selling products from Ethiopia.
After meeting in a church in Khartoum, Meriam and Daniel Wani were married in a church ceremony in 2012. Daniel, a biochemist, had fled from his home in Sudan to the U.S. in 1998, settling in Manchester, New Hampshire. He is wheelchair bound due to muscular dystrophy. The couple’s son, Martin, is almost two, and their daughter Maya was born May 27 in a prison clinic. Currently in custody at the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison with her son and infant daughter, Meriam is suffering physically and is reportedly often shackled, making it difficult to care for her children.
Because of her estranged father’s faith, Meriam is considered legally Muslim, and the Sudanese government does not recognize her marriage to Daniel, a Christian. Accused of adultery, Meriam has been sentenced to 100 lashes. That sentence could be carried out at any time now that Maya has been born… unless she is given a reprieve. She is also sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy and her refusal to “return” to Islam. According to the court, this sentence would not be carried out until Maya is weaned, in about 2 years.
Meriam testified in court on March 4 that she was a Christian and presented her marriage certificate, which states that she is a Christian, and that the marriage was conducted in a church in Khartoum in 2012. Three witnesses who came from western Sudan came to Khartoum in March to attest to Meriam’s lifelong Christian faith were not allowed to testify before the court. Her lawyer’s attempt to appeal the decision has been stalled for additional paperwork.
Daniel, now a U.S. citizen, was planning to bring Meriam and Martin to the U.S., but the paperwork was delayed, and then she was suddenly arrested. According to U.S. law, the children of U.S. citizens are automatically entitled to citizenship regardless of where they are born. However, the U.S. government has yet to formally recognize Martin’s citizenship, and Maya’s eligibility status remains unclear. It seems the State Department is seeking evidence of Daniel’s biological relationship to the children. In May, U.S. senators urged Secretary of State John Kerry to personally intervene in the case, and offer Meriam political asylum.
Countries around the world are calling for Meriam’s release. The United Nations human rights experts declared the conviction “outrageous.” UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, has described the sentence as “barbaric,” and a petition by Amnesty International calling for Ibrahim’s release attracted more than 750,000 signatures worldwide.
Meriam’s case has also provoked a reaction from Dr. Hassan al Turabi, leader of Sudan’s Popular Congress Party. Dr. Hassan al Turabi called the sentence, “a scandal, extremism, and intellectual backwardness”.
On Monday, June 2, four African organizations-the African Center of Justice and Peace Studies, the Sudanese Organization for Development and Rehabilitation, the Sudanese Human Rights Initiative, and the Justice Centre for Advocacy and Legal Consultancy-joined with London-based anti-torture group Redress, to launch a formal complaint against authorities in Khartoum. They allege Sudan has violated Ibrahim’s fundamental rights as enshrined in the African charter on human rights, which the Khartoum government ratified in 1986.
The Sudanese government has responded with a demand that international interference cease, stating that this is a judicial and not a political matter. In further official reaction, Sudan’s embassy in Washington issued a statement denying that Sudan was violating Ibrahim’s human rights, asserting that its judiciary was independent, and declaring that “Sudanese judges are qualified and dignified.”
Father, we lay at Your feet Your servant Meriam who has remained faithful even in the face of death. As we gather tonight in the comfort of our homes, as we give thanks for our families and friends, remind us to pray for Meriam and her family. Comfort Daniel in his sorrow, and encourage him with the assurance of Your power and goodness in their lives. Protect Martin and Maya from illness and fear as they live with their mother in prison. Provide the food and care they need, and quiet their anxious hearts. We pray that they would grow strong in faith even in these difficult circumstances. Strengthen Meriam to teach them of Your faithfulness to them when it is hard to see. Comfort Meriam with Your sure presence, and grant her courage to meet each day with the hope of Christ. We pray that you will provide for Meriam’s release soon, and that Martin and Maya, as well as the watching world, will see that You have done it. In the name of Jesus, our only sure hope in this life and in the life to come, Amen.