Sudanese Government Backtracks on Release of Condemned Woman
Yesterday, I blogged the happy story that the Sudanese government would release Meriam Ibrahim "within days," sparing her from being executed for apostasy. "The related authorities are working to release Meriam through legal measures. I expect her to be released soon," a foreign ministry official was reported as saying.
Now it appears that either the Sudanese government has changed its mind, or the official overstepped his authority. Today, the foreign ministry said that Meriam's release was "not imminent" and that only the courts could let her go.
Sudan's foreign ministry denied published reports that a woman sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith is expected to be released.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abubakar Al-Sidiq said that he is not aware of any plans to release Mariam Yahya Ibrahim before a ruling from an appeals court.
Ibrahim was condemned to die by hanging after she declined to profess she is a Muslim, the religion of her father. Sharia law considers her a Muslim and does not recognize her marriage to a Christian. She is unlikely to change her mind despite giving birth in prison, says her husband Daniel Wani, who also is a Christian.
Some Western media outlets have reported that Ibrahim would be released in a few days, but her husband said that only the appeals court could free his wife.
"I'm not aware that any release is imminent," Wani told CNN.
Technically, the president of Sudan cannot pardon her, so the judiciary might be the only way out for the government, which is coming under increased international pressure to release Ibrahim.
The court convicted her of apostasy and adultery two weeks ago. At the time, she was eight months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl this week at a Khartoum prison, where she's detained with Martin, her 20-month-old son.
Despite languishing in prison with two infants, she's holding firm to her beliefs, according to her husband.
"There is pressure on her from Muslim religious leaders that she should return to the faith," Wani told CNN in a TV exclusive. "She said, 'How can I return when I never was a Muslim? Yes, my father was a Muslim, but I was brought up by my mother.' "
Meriam's lawyer scoffed at the reports of her release, calling them "rumors":
Elshareef Ali Elshareef Mohammed, lawyer for Christian Sudanese mother Meriam Ibrahim, 27, who was sentenced to death for her faith, dismissed reports on Saturday that his client is expected to be released in a few days as "absurd," as her family has not been told there is any chance for her release.
Mohammed made the revelation to Channel 4 News highlighting that Meriam is now being held in an overcrowded ward of a hospital prison, after giving birth in shackles last week. The ward he said is "not a proper place" for a new mother.
Abdullah Alzareg, an under-secretary at the Sudan's foreign Ministry told the BBC that Meriam Ibrahim is expected to be released in a few days and that Sudan guaranteed religious freedom and vowed to protect the young mother.
Mohammed explained to Channel 4 News that any decision to release Meriam has to come from an appeal court and it takes months, not days, to process an appeal. He added that when Alzareg made the statement of Meriam's release, he was visiting the UK at the moment and noted: "One person in the UK (the official) saw the UK media, and wanted to stop the campaign (for her release)."
Sudan is desperately dependent on foreign aid for its survival so they may be looking for an "out" in order not to offend their benefactors in the west. That said, it's curious that a high official in the foreign office would make a statement indicating that Meriam's release was imminent. I doubt he just pulled the idea out of his hat; he is probably reflecting the thinking inside the government and jumped the gun a bit.
What we know is this; execution for apostasy is popular in much of the Islamic world. The percentages are astonishing; 78% support for executing apostates in Afghanistan, 64% in Egypt and Pakistan. Even in so-called "moderate" Malaysia, 53% of the public supports killing apostates.
Nonie Darwish, director of Former Muslims United, points out in this 2010 article that apostates are executed but for other reasons than their real "crime":
Muslim apologists often speak from both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they assure Americans that Islam has nothing in it that condemns apostates to death. On the other hand, they state that announcing publicly that one has left Islam and the reasons for leaving, are grounds for charges of treason. After world condemnation of Islamic tyranny, many Muslim countries are working around the law of apostasy by still killing apostates, but for a different stated reason. If a Muslim declares publicly that he has left Islam and why, this in itself is considered treason, and thus, governments can arrest apostates, torture, imprison, and kill that person. But they officially state that it is due to treason, as if the person had committed espionage or some other crime against national security. As long as a Muslim keeps silent about his apostasy and acts as a Muslim, he is left alone. But the minute he or she starts attending a church, all hell breaks loose. They are arrested for disturbing the peace, causing fitna divisions, and treason; that is the modern way of killing apostates inside Egypt today.