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Sudan: Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Detained Again

June 25, 2014 | USCIRF

The U.S. Commission on  International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is gravely concerned about the Sudanese government’s arrest of Meriam Ibrahim Ishag on document fraud charges and her being held with her family at a Khartoum police station following their June 24 detention at Khartoum’s airport as they sought to leave the country. USCIRF calls on the Sudanese government to release them immediately and has lodged a strong protest with the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C.

“We are very disturbed by these new developments,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.  “Our chief concern now is for Meriam and her family’s safety, that they be freed, and for their human rights to be fully respected.”

On Monday, June 23, an appeals court cancelled the apostasy charges and death sentence against Meriam and ordered her release from prison.  Meriam, a Christian, was convicted on May 15 of apostasy and sentenced to death by hanging.   Because the court did not recognize her marriage, she also had been found guilty of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes.  While imprisoned, Meriam give birth on May 27 to a baby girl, Maya, who had been detained with her, along with her two-year-old son Martin. 

Meriam’s conviction, sentencing, detention, and arrest are a travesty for religious freedom and human rights in Sudan. The laws which she was accused of breaking violate Sudan’s own constitutional and international commitments to religious freedom and human rights.

Continued and focused international attention is critical to holding the Sudanese government accountable for its own constitutional provisions and international commitments to protect and respect freedom of religion or belief not only for Meriam, but all Sudanese, regardless of faith, said Chairman George.”

These laws reflect the practices of the Sudanese government which engages in systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.  The government of Sudan imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shari’ah law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike which include, along with charging individuals with the capital crime of apostasy, using amputations against those found guilty of armed robbery, and flogging Sudanese for undefined acts of “indecency” and “immorality.” 

Meriam was arrested on February 17 after her brother reported to the police that she had left Islam to marry a Christian man, a capital crime under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Code. The Sudanese government’s application of Shari’ah law prohibits a Muslim woman from marrying a Christian man.  While Meriam was born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother, her father left the family when she was six and she was raised a Christian.  As evidence of her Christian faith, Meriam produced her 2011 marriage certificate which identified her as a Christian, and witnesses who tried to testify on her behalf, but court authorities prevented them from speaking. On May 15, Meriam was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy. 

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact USCIRF at media@uscirf.gov or 202-786-0613.