A bipartisan coalition in the Senate introduced a resolution today calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of a Sudanese Christian woman condemned to death for apostasy, while Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Roy Blunt appealed yet again to Secretary of State John Kerry to step in and help.
A Thursday deadline passed for Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam, so she is now on death row in Khartoum with an additional sentence of 100 lashes. The 27-year-old doctor, eight months pregnant with her second child, is shackled in prison with her 20-month-old son.
In 2012, she married Dr. Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese-born U.S. citizen in Khartoum; she was raised solely by her Christian Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her Muslim Sudanese father left when she was young.
Blunt and Ayotte fired off an urgent letter to Kerry on Friday, asking for “immediate action and full diplomatic engagement to offer Meriam political asylum and to secure her and her son’s safe release.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday that she didn’t know if the letter had been received.
Blunt responded on Twitter, “Absurd. State Dept confirmed receipt on 5/16.”
Today, they sent a follow-up letter to Kerry and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson; Psaki told reporters yesterday that any asylum decision would be in the hands of DHS.
“Due to the nature of this case, it is critical that there is clarity between your Departments regarding the status of the family and their previous requests for assistance from the United States. Any gaps in communication between the Departments during this time are simply unacceptable. When asked about Meriam’s imprisonment and sentencing at a Monday State Department press briefing, State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki stated that the Department of Homeland Security would have oversight over the issue of political asylum for Meriam and her son. Based on that information, we request an update on the Department of Homeland Security’s involvement in the process of assisting Daniel Wani in his efforts to secure safety for his family members in the U.S.,” Ayotte and Blunt wrote.
“To date, none of the statements issued by the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum have mentioned that Daniel Wani is a U.S. Citizen, and we are concerned that questions about the citizenship of Meriam’s son, Martin, and her unborn child are preventing needed high-level engagement from the Departments.”
In the upper chamber, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) joined with Sens. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) on the resolution that also calls on Sudan to incorporate religious freedom in its constitution.
The bill “encourages the Department of State, and the United States Agency for International Development, to continue their support for initiatives worldwide that support religious freedom.”
Rubio commended “Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need.”
“Prosecuting and sentencing to death someone — let alone a pregnant woman — because she refused to recant her religious faith is abhorrent and utterly inhuman,” said Coons. “Instead of persecuting citizens, governments should be protecting them and their right to hold and change their religious beliefs. The Sudanese Government made a commitment when it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It should release Ms. Ibrahim Ishag and her son from jail and reject these apostasy laws.”
In 2009, Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, became the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the International Criminal Court on counts of genocide.
“The idea of imprisoning, let alone flogging or killing, a pregnant mother for her religious beliefs, or those of her husband, is an affront to the Sudanese constitution, international norms, and basic human dignity,” said Menendez. “Sudan must recommit itself to upholding its own domestic and international obligations, including respecting the right of Ms. Ishag and all Sudanese to worship as they so choose.”
“It is hard to imagine that we still live in a world where a government has detained a pregnant woman and sentenced her to death solely for peacefully practicing her personal faith,” Inhofe said.
At a press conference with other Senate Republican leaders today, Blunt chided the administration for not taking responsibility and stepping in to help the woman.
“And then yesterday, at the State Department, they were asked if they’d received a letter from Senator Ayotte and I on Meriam Ibrahim, who’s being held in prison in Sudan, and they really — they had no idea, even though they’d had the letter for four days, and we got the receipt they had the letter for four days. The problem is, nobody is respon — this is a woman, one of her sentences in Sudan is to be flogged for marrying a non-Muslim, and the second, after they flog her, is to hang her for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. We don’t seem to be concerned about that,” Blunt said.
“She and her toddler son are in a prison cell right now, waiting for the baby to be born, so the mother can be killed. And nobody in our government appears to want to say anything about it.”