USCIRF Strongly Condemns Apostasy Prosecution of Sudanese Woman

May 16, 2014


May 16, 2014 | USCIRF

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) strongly condemns the death sentence against Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a Sudanese Christian woman accused of apostasy.  Ibrahim was sentenced to death by hanging on May 15 after she refused to recant her faith.  She also was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery. 

“Mrs. Ibrahim should be released immediately and all charges dropped,” said USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.  “This case and the sentencing are a travesty for religious freedom and human rights in Sudan.”

Currently eight months pregnant, Ibrahim was arrested on February 17 after someone reported to the police her marriage to a Christian.  Charged and sentenced for apostasy and adultery under articles 126 and 146 of the 1991 Criminal Code, she is being held in the Omdurman Federal Women’s Prison with her 20-month-old son.  She is accused of leaving Islam to marry a Christian man, despite producing a marriage certificate which identified her as a Christian.  The Sudanese government’s application of Shari’ah law prohibits a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man and considers such a relationship to be adulterous.  The court has postponed carrying out the sentence until two years after Ibrahim’s child is born. Ibrahim’s lawyers plan to appeal.

USCIRF welcomes the May 14 joint statement by the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands expressing their concern over the apostasy ruling and noting an individual’s right to change faith.  The large diplomatic presence at the May 15 hearing at the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum also was positive.

“International attention to this case is critical to holding the Sudanese government accountable for its constitutional provisions and international commitments to protect and respect freedom of religion or belief not only for Mrs. Ibrahim, but all Sudanese, regardless of faith,” said George.

While Ibrahim 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.  Ibrahim produced witnesses to attest to her lifelong faithfulness to Christianity, but the court prohibited the witnesses from testifying.        

Since 1999, USCIRF has recommended, and the State Department has designated, Sudan as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act, based on the government’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.   The government of President Omar al-Bashir imposes a restrictive interpretation of Shari’ah law on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, uses amputations and floggings for crimes and acts of “indecency” and “immorality,” and arrests, harasses, and discriminates against members of the small Christian community.  President al-Bashir and other National Congress Party (NCP) leaders have stated that Sudan’s new constitution, when drafted, will be based on its interpretation of Shari’ah.  Since South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011, the number and severity of harsh Shari’ah-based judicial decisions has increased, including sentences of amputation for theft and sentences for stoning for adultery. 

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact USCIRF at or 202-786-0613