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24 June 2014

Sudan: Meriam freed but problem remains

Sudan: Meriam freed but problem remains

Sudan desert

The Evangelical Alliance has welcomed news that Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman who was imprisoned in February and then sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity, has been released from prison.

A court has ordered 27-year-old Meriam Yahya Ibrahim –who was pregnant when she was first imprisoned - be freed after her case sparked outrage around the world.

Alliance member Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) can confirm that the appeal court reviewing Mrs Ibrahim's case, sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery on 11 May, has quashed the original verdict, ordered her release, recognised her marriage and declared her innocent of all charges. 
 
According to information given to CSW, while in Omdurman Women's Prison along with her two young children, Mrs Ibrahim had been visited by an Islamic scholar who read to her continuously from the Qur'an in order to help her to 'return' to Islam.
 
On 4 March Mrs Ibrahim was charged with adultery and apostasy under articles 146 and 126 of Sudan's penal code respectively, after alleged family members whom she had never met informed the Sudanese authorities of her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian.

Individuals signed petitions and media and human rights organisations lobbied against the actions and called for her release under #savemeriam.

With a Muslim majority, Sudan is governed by Islamic law. However this sentence directly goes against the Sudanese Convention which states that citizens have the right to freedom of religion. It also contravenes international conventions which Sudan has agreed to.

A public order court in El Haj Yousif Khartoum, chaired by Judge Abbas Khalifa, gave her three days to renounce her faith. Her sentence was confirmed on 15 May, after Mrs Ibrahim refused to renounce Christianity.
 
At her trial, Mrs Ibrahim produced evidence to support the fact she is a life-long Christian, having been raised in the faith by her mother from a young age.

Members of Mrs Ibrahim's legal team have received threats from extremists who have deemed their actions 'un-Islamic', adding that they too should receive death sentences.

Pressure has also come from her accusers;her alleged brother has publicly stated the family would carry out the death sentence should the court acquit her. According to local sources, other alleged family members have also issued daily threats statements in the Sudanese press against the lawyers, and AFP News Agency reports that extremist groups have lobbied the Sudanese government to uphold the sentence. 

Dr Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, said: "It's down to the heroic efforts of the international community and the bravery of her lawyers that the repressive regime in Sudan has been forced to take this historic step of finally respecting human dignity and religious liberty for just one person.

"While we give thanks to God for Meriam's release, we should not forget that she and her children now have to flee their country to find safety whilst many others continue to suffer for their faith in Sudan. The underlying problem remains."

CSW's chief executive Mervyn Thomas said: "We are delighted to hear that Mrs Ibrahim and her children have been released into the care of her husband and that the unjust, inhumane and unwarranted sentences have been annulled.

"However, we remain appalled by the threats and hate speech that has been aired seemingly unhindered against her and her lawyers and urge the international community to hold the Sudanese authorities to account for their safety.

"The right to freedom of religion or belief is guaranteed by international statutes to which Sudan is party. The Sudanese authorities have a duty to ensure the protection of any citizen who seeks to exercise or uphold this right."

Freedom of religious belief along with freedom of thought and conscience are fundamental human rights which must be protected and upheld. They reflect society and it is through these freedoms that we will see individuals thrive and society flourish.