WASHINGTON — A government official in Sudan is denying claims that a Christian woman sentenced to execution for her faith may soon be freed.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, is recognized as Muslim under Sudanese law because her father was Muslim, despite the fact that her father abandoned the family when Ibrahim was 6 years old, and she was raised as a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother.
Ibrahim is married to Daniel Wani, a Christian and an American citizen. She gave birth to their second child while imprisoned and in chains on May 27.
She was arrested in August 2013; a Khartoum court convicted her May 15 of apostasy from Islam, as well as adultery, on the grounds that marriage between Muslim women and non-Muslim men is not recognized.
Having been raised a Christian, Ibrahim rejected the charge of apostasy, telling the court, “I am a Christian, and I never committed apostasy.”
Several media outlets reported a June 2 announcement by Sudan’s foreign ministry that “the defense team of the concerned citizen has appealed the verdict ... and if the appeals court rules in her favor, she will be released,” adding that “the government does not interfere in the work of the judiciary because it is an independent body.”
Abu Bakr al-Sideeg, a representative of the foreign ministry, added that he is “not aware that any release is imminent.”
The day prior, an undersecretary at the ministry, Abdullahi Alazreg, had said that Ibrahim would be released “in a few days’ time” and that “authorities in the country are working to release Meriam through legal measures,” according to the BBC, The Guardian and other news agencies.
However, the foreign ministry said Sunday that Alazreg’s statement had been misrepresented by media outlets.
One of Ibrahim’s lawyers, Elshareef Ali Mohammed, commented that Alazreg’s statement was “to silence the international media.”
“This is what the government does. We will not believe that she is being freed until she walks out of the prison.”
Sudan scored an 11 out of 100 in Transparency International's 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, ranking at 174 out of 175 among nations, based on the perception of their public-sector corruption — ahead of only Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia, which were tied for being perceived as the most corrupt.
‘We Must Keep Up the Pressure’
Ali Mohammed told the BBC that the government statement “at least … shows our campaign to free Meriam is rattling them. We must keep up the pressure.”
Wani said the reports of his wife’s release were mere rumors, telling the BBC that “no Sudanese or foreign mediator contacted me. … I will wait for the appeal, which my lawyer submitted, and I hope that my wife will be released.”
Sudan has come under intense and widespread international criticism over the case.
The U.S. State Department has said it is deeply disturbed by Ibrahim’s death sentence, urging Sudan to “respect the right to religious freedom.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron has said Ibrahim’s treatment “is barbaric and has no place in today’s world. Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right. I urge the government of Sudan to overturn the sentence and immediately provide appropriate support and medical care for her and her children.”
More than 309,000 have signed a petition from the Be Heard Project urging her release; a similar petition at Change.org has garnered more than 749,000 signatures.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., has called Sudan’s refusal to recognize religious freedom one motivation for the region’s lengthy civil war.
Sudan fought a civil war from 1983 to 2005 that led to autonomy for southern Sudan and the formation of an independent South Sudan in 2011. Sudan's population is 97% Muslim.
Since 1999, the U.S. State Department has listed Sudan as a country of particular concern due to religious-freedom violations.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which advises the U.S. government, said in its 2014 report that Sudan’s government “continues to engage in systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief.” The report noted that the country’s “restrictive interpretation of shariah law” is imposed on both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide called on the Sudanese government to address the “high degree of societal hostility” towards religious minorities, including “derogatory statements that may address hatred.”