31 May 2014

Reports about Meriam Ibrahim’s release are ‘absurd’

Meriam Ibrahim’s lawyer tells Channel 4 News that reports she is to be freed are “absurd” and untrue, as political leaders call on the Sudanese government to lift her death sentence.

Meriam Ibrahim's husband Daniel Wani with the couple's young son and baby daughter

Photo: Meriam Ibrahim’s husband Daniel Wani with the couple’s young son and baby daughter, who are both in prison with their mother.

Ms Ibrahim’s lawyer Elshareef Ali Elshareef Mohammed told Channel 4 News that she is currently being held in the hospital ward of a prison that is overcrowded and “not a proper place” for a new mother. Ms Ibrahim gave birth to her baby daughter this week with her feet chained together, he added.

Ms Ibrhaim, whose father is Muslim but who was raised a Christian, has been condemned to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian.

A senior Sudanese official has reportedly told the BBC and other media outlets that Ms Ibrahim would be freed in a few days, but her lawyer told Channel 4 News that this was “absurd” and that the family has not been told there was any chance of her release from jail.

Mr Elshareef said that any decision to release her would have to be made by an appeal court, not a government official, and that it would take months, rather than days, to process the appeal. He claimed that the senior Sudanese official quoted in the media “saw the UK media, and wanted to stop the campaign (for her release).” There has been no official statement from authorities on the conflicting reports so far.

Earlier on Saturday, the prime minister joined Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg in condemning the treatment of the 27-year-old, and said he was “absolutely appalled” when he heard about her plight.

A court ruled earlier this month that she is Muslim because that was her father’s faith and her Christian marriage of 2011 was annulled. She was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death by hanging for renouncing Islam. Sex outside a “lawful relationship” is regarded as adultery under Sudanese law.

The way she is being treated is barbaric and has no place in today’s world David Cameron

Mr Elshareef told Channel 4 News that Ms Ibrahim had married her husband in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, in 2011, but was arrested by the police for the first time on 14 September 2013.

She was released soon after, before being arrested and bailed again on 28 September, and on 24 February this year, after which she was detained.

Mr Elshareef said that Ms Ibrahim owns a small supermarket, a farm and a woman’s beauty salon, and that she could have been reported to the police by people who wanted to take over her businesses. Contrary to some reports, the lawyer denied that her family members had reported her to the police.

Mr Cameron said the way she is being treated was “barbaric” and said: “Religious freedom is an absolute, fundamental human right.”

He added: “I urge the government of Sudan to overturn the sentence and immediately provide appropriate support and medical care for her and her children. The UK will continue to press the government of Sudan to act.”

Ms Ibrahim’s husband Daniel Wani, a US citizen, travels between Sudan and the US, the couple’s lawyer added.

Mr Wani told Reuters said that he was worried about his son, who is just under two-years-old and is being incarcerated with her mother, adding that he had become sullen and withdrawn.

Mr Wani said that his wife was under pressure to convert to Islam to leave prison but that she was “committed” to her right to religious freedom.

Under Sudanese law, a pregnant woman sentenced to death is entitled to give birth and nurse her baby for two years before an execution can go ahead.

The imprisonment of Ms Ibrahim and her son in February this year, has prompted widespread global anger, and an Amnesty International petition urging Sudan to spare her the death sentence has garnered over 180,000 signatures.

Foreign aid

The case has prompted questions over whether the UK should continue giving aid to countries which do not adhere to human rights conventions.

Liam Fox MP, the former defence secretary and shadow foreign secretary, said the government needed to think again about aid. “Religious tolerance is something that the UK should be promoting at every opportunity,” he said.

“We need to ask ourselves whether it is acceptable too be giving taxpayers’ money in aid to states which allow treatment such as that handed out to Meriam Ibrahim.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband called her conviction “an abhorrent abuse of her human rights” and added: “Nobody should be persecuted because of the religion they practice or the person they fall in love with.”

He said that the Labour Party supported the government in pressurising the Sudanese government for her release. Tony Blair also described the case as a “brutal and sickening distortion of faith”, according to The Times.