Sudanese woman who escaped 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy, three years on

Three years ago today, a young Sudanese mother was freed from prison after narrowly escaping being hung, first having been lashed 100 times for adultery. The delay on carrying out Mariam Ibrahim’s double sentence was due only to the fact that she was heavily pregnant: Islamic law (Sharia) required that she first give birth (to her daughter Maya) – while shackled to a prison bed.

Ms Ibrahim’s crime? She had held firm to the faith in which her Christian mother had brought her up – after divorce from her Muslim father when Mariam was six. But under Sudan’s interpretation of Sharia, a daughter’s religion is defined as that of her father: even if he’s largely absent from her life.

So when, in 2011, Ms Ibrahim married a fellow-Christian, Daniel Wani, critics – who claimed to be her father’s family – accused them both first of ‘adultery’, though they’d been married in church. After this false charge was dropped against Mr Wadi, Ms Ibrahim was found guilty of ‘apostasy’ for turning her back on the faith of her father.

Her brutal fate brought her to global attention, helped by the fact that she was a woman, a doctor and that – again under Sudan’s Sharia – her toddler son Martin had to stay in prison with her. It also helped that her husband had dual US and South Sudanese citizenship.

Exactly six months after she was first detained – on Christmas Eve 2013 – Ms Ibrahim was freed, on 23 June 2014. Now living in the US, her first trip abroad came this week – to the European Parliament, to speak as someone directly affected by the blanket imposition of Sharia, which makes no exception for a country’s ethnic and religious diversity. As globalisation increases, cases such as Ms Ibrahim’s become more frequent, as the book ‘Identity Crisis’ by Jonathan Andrews makes clear.

Ms Ibrahim ended her conversation with World Watch Monitor’s Julia Bicknell by stressing that her problems are symptomatic of those currently faced by the Christian community in Sudan: the most current being the demolition of churches, an issue raised with its government by the EU Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, Ján Figeľ, when he visited in March. Then, the Minister for Religious Endowments had promised him a delay to demolition plans. However, since then he’s been replaced, at least two more churches have been demolished and the new Minister has not yet responded to Figeľs most recent letter of concern. These latest demolitions (both were of Sudan Church of Christ churches) have also prompted a letter from that denomination’s leaders to their government. Again there has been no response.

As Figeľ pointed out in the European Parliament meeting where he and Ms Ibrahim spoke, “What’s crucial here is that freedom of religion or belief is the issue… When it is restricted, then sooner or later other human rights and fundamental freedoms suffer the same fate.

“Human dignity is the most important, the crucial, priority value: human dignity for all and everywhere, as dignity is universal and does not depend on where one comes from, on whether one is religious, or a non-confessional humanist – we all share the same human dignity.

“Only a minority in our world of today enjoys freedom of religion or belief … and the tendency has worsened in recent years. In 22 countries there still is the death penalty for apostasy; and blasphemy is a criminal offense in 40 countries, punished in some of them with the death penalty.”

Ms Ibrahim reaffirmed Figeľ’s point: she spoke of how, when she was detained a second time at Khartoum airport as she finally tried to leave the country, an airport official tried to help her. He has now himself been forced to seek refuge in Europe: she said “though he can’t be named, he’s in this [European Parliament] room now, on his own journey [of exile from Sudan] all because, as a Muslim, he tried to help a Christian in an Islamic state”.

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