SIHA STATEMENT – 08 MAY 2014 – Sudan: Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Sudanese woman currently pregnant with her second child, is facing punishments of public flogging and execution if found guilty on baseless charges of apostasy and adultery in an upcoming hearing to be convened by Sudan’s Criminal Court at the Haj Yousif court complex in Khartoum, Sudan. SIHA is calling for urgent action by human rights organizations and advocates across the globe in support of the immediate release by the Government of Sudan of Meriam, who is currently imprisoned with her 20-month-old son at Omdurman Women’s Prison near Khartoum.
Meriam, a self-professed Christian married to a doctor and American citizen originally from South Sudan, is wrongly accused of the crimes of adultery and apostasy, which carry punishments of public lashing and execution respectively under the 1991 Criminal Act, which formally introduced sharia law into the Sudanese criminal code.
Meriam, was born in Gedarif, Sudan to a Christian Ethiopian Orthodox mother and a Muslim Sudanese father, yet was raised solely by her mother as the father was entirely absent from her upbringing. Meriam was married to Dr. Daniel Wani in 2012 at a small Christian church in Khartoum and has a 20-month-old son, currently residing with Meriam in prison. Despite Meriam’s husband being an American citizen and passport holder, legal consul in contact with Meriam’s husband have informed SIHA that thus far, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum has been unable to make progress in finalizing a required DNA test which is required to permit Meriam’s husband to claim custody of the child whom is currently incarcerated with Meriam. It is unclear what support options will be available to the U.S. Embassy for the family even in the event that a DNA test demonstrates the paternity of the child, as the Sudanese authorities refuse to accept that the child remain in the father’s custody as he is not a Muslim.
Meriam’s troubles began in 2013 after she was arrested by Sudanese authorities when an unknown family member allegedly claimed that Meriam was committing adultery (zina, non-mushan) in violation of Article 146 of the 1991 Criminal Act. Sudanese officials viewed Meriam as a Muslim cohabitating with her Christian husband, despite Meriam’s insistence that she was in fact a practising Christian married to a man of the same faith. As such, the relationship between Meriam and her husband was judged to be adulterous and in violation of Article 146 in that marriage between Muslim women and Christian men are not recognized in Sudan. Meriam faces public lashing if convicted of this baseless charge.
In February 2014, an additional charge of apostasy, based on Article 126 of the 1991 Criminal Act, was brought against Meriam. Defined in Article 126 as ‘renunciation of the creed of Islam or public declaration of renunciation,’ Sudanese officials incorrectly claimed that the Muslim [sic] Meriam had, by marrying a Christian man, renounced Islam publicly and was therefore guilty of apostasy in addition to the initial charge of adultery. Under the 1991 Criminal Act, a conviction of apostasy carries the death penalty. Once again, the charge is based on the Sudanese officials’ position that Meriam is a Muslim, as non-Muslims cannot be charged with apostasy.
Thus, both that Article 146 (adultery) and Article 126 (apostasy) charges hinge on the assertion by Sudanese authorities that Meriam is in fact a Muslim despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary including: 1) Meriam’s assertion that she is a Christian, supported by two witnesses who testified that they prayed with Meriam in church in the past, 2) Meriam’s upbringing in the Christian Orthodox faith that her Ethiopian mother practiced, and 3) Meriam’s marriage in a Christian church in Khartoum in 2012 to a Christian man, the documentation of which has been provided to Sudanese authorities.
Sudan’s legal system has often displayed a pattern of selective enforcement of the law and has frequently singled out women, ethnic minorities, and activists with punishments often disproportionate to alleged crimes committed. Meriam’s imprisonment and potential conviction following a hearing scheduled to be held by Sudan’s Criminal Court at the Haj Yousif court complex in Khartoum on 11 May 2014 threatens to continue this dangerous trend. The fact that Meriam stands to lose her life over specious charges makes this case of utmost urgency and demands a unified advocacy and outreach efforts by human rights defenders across the globe.
SIHA demands the Sudanese Department of Justice to recall its signatory status to both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1986) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) and to uphold the obligations contained therein including the protection and promotion of human rights, the guarantee of free practice of religion (ACHPR, Article 2), the prohibition of arbitrary arrest (ACHPR, Article 8), and the guarantee that, “…everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom…to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching” (ICCPR, Article 18). SIHA also draws attention to the fact that the Constitution of Sudan (2005) guarantees complete freedom to worship a religion of one’s choosing (Article 6.A), the rights of men and women to marry and build a family (Article 15.1), and the State obligation to “protect motherhood and women from injustice…and empower them in public life” (Article 15.2). The Constitution also prohibits ‘cruel, inhuman, or degrading’ punishments (Article 33), provides guarantees for fair trial and due process (Article 34) and prohibits use of the death penalty on ‘pregnant or lactating women’ (Article 36).
SIHA urges the Department of Justice and the Sudanese Criminal Court in Khartoum to uphold these aforementioned international commitments as well as their national constitution and release Meriam Ibrahim and her child immediately from custody.
The Strategic initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is a coalition of over 80 women’s civil society organisations from across the Horn countries inclusive of Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Somaliland, Eritrea and Uganda. The organisation works on women’s access to justice, promoting and protecting women’s human rights, activating women’s political participation and supporting economic empowerment.