Sudan Claims Christian on Death Row to Go Free, Lawyers Doubtful

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The Sudanese regime is claiming that Meriam Ibrahim Ishag, an imprisoned Christian sentenced to death, will be released after heavy international pressure. Her attorney is doubtful but even if it’s true, there’s another woman we must act to save: Faiza Abdalla.

Meriam is a victim of Sudan’ move towards stricter sharia governance and the culture of “honor.” This tradition pushed her own Muslim brother to redeem the family’s “honor” by turning her into the authorities. Meriam’s father is a Muslim, so the Sudanese government considered her to be an apostate deserving of death for being a Christian. She just gave birth in prison.

A Change.org petition gathered over 720,000 signatures demanding that she be released. The Sudanese regime was condemned internationally, with the U.S. government becoming "fully engaged" behind-the-scenes to twist the regime’s arm.

Now, the Sudanese regime is telling the world that it is caving. Her husband, Daniel Wadi, is now allowed to visit her and their baby. A foreign ministry official claims she will be “freed within days in line with legal procedure that will be taken by the judiciary and the ministry of justice."

It is hard to see how she can be released without violating Sudanese bans on apostasy and adultery.

International Christian Concern has been informed by a Sudanese official that it will release Meriam temporary for two years so she can take care of her baby, but the death sentencing will not be lifted. Presumably, the same is true of the 100 lashes she is sentenced to. It is possible that the Sudanese regime is hoping that she’ll be granted asylum in the U.S. during the delay.

Meriam’s attorney, Elshareef Ali Mohammed, sees it as nothing more than deceitful public relations, calling it a “statement to silence the international media.”

“If they were to release her, the announcement would come from the appeal court, and not from the ministry of foreign affairs. But at least it shows our campaign to free Meriam is rattling them. We must keep up the pressure,” he said.

The international community of governments and human rights activists cannot let up the pressure even if Meriam is freed and allowed to come to the U.S. We must rise to the occasion to tackle a very similar case in Sudan that was recently reported but has yet to get significant media attention.

On April 2, the regime arrested Faiza Abdallah, a 37-year old Christian woman, on charges of apostasy. She was filing for a national identification card and the personnel noticed that she has an Islamic name but listed her faith as Christianity. That’s all it took for her to be arrested. On April 8, the regime officially rescinded recognition of her marriage because Muslims cannot marry Christians.

Abdallah was raised in an evangelical Christian household. Her parents converted from Islam to Christianity, but never changed their names. The Islamic name remained and it is the sole evidence used by the Sudanese regime to assert that she was a Muslim.

Like Meriam, she was never a Muslim. Yet, she still sits in a Sudanese prison waiting to find out if she’ll be sentenced to death. She could also be sentenced to lashings for adultery because of her marriage.

International pressure, especially American pressure, may be working on Sudan because it has long desired to be de-listed from the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. The U.S. nearly did so in 2011.

The sticking point has been Sudanese human rights abuses and the regime’s links to Hamas. Sudan is also increasingly close to Iran. In October 2012, a weapons factory in Khartoum went up in smoke, possibly due to foreign hands. The factory was part of an Iranian supply line to Hamas.

“In 2013, Sudan continued to allow members of Hamas to travel, fundraise and live in Sudan,” the State Department says.

However, the rest of the language was complimentary towards Sudan. The U.S. said the regime is “a generally cooperative counterterrorism partner and continued to take action to address threats to U.S. interests and personnel in Sudan.” It credited Sudan with taking steps against Al-Qaeda linked terrorists.

The Sudanese regime may believe it is on the cusp of being delisted and it is worried that Meriam’s case will jeopardize it. If it is de-listed, various sanctions will be lifted. The population is restive, in large part due to the economy, and the regime has to worry about popular upheaval. The prospect of an improved economy is enticing for President Omar Bashir.

Another factor in Bashir’s decision-making is his Islamist opposition. He is no moderate himself, but his domestic Islamist opponents like Muslim Brotherhood leader Hasan al-Turabi have repeatedly called for his overthrow. His allowing of South Sudan to become independent brought their infuriation to new heights.

Since South Sudan’s secession, Bashir has moved aggressively in an Islamist direction. He openly says he is transforming the country into a state where sharia is the only source of law. In 2012, the Bashir regime told its half-million Christians to leave or prepare to be seen as foreigners. The potential release of Meriam now threatens to ignite the Islamist forces that Bashir sought to placate.

The potential release of Meriam can accurately be described as a rescue. It would not have happened without the intervention of hundreds of thousands of activists and concerned people. International governments only acted because we compelled them to.

Her release would prove that non-violent activism by Westerners can make a positive difference in the fight against Islamic extremism. Those oppressed by Islamists don’t need to be abandoned.

We can celebrate if Meriam is released, but we must also seize the moment. Faiza Abdallah’s freedom can become the next victory.


Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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