WASHINGTON (BP) — The Southern Baptist Convention’s lead religious freedom advocate has called on Secretary of State John Kerry to condemn the death sentence of a Sudanese Christian woman.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, urged forceful action from Kerry in a letter Tuesday (May 20) responding to a judgment against Meriam Ibrahim, who refused to renounce her Christian faith. A Sudanese judge in Khartoum sentenced Ibrahim, who has a 20-month-old son and is eight months pregnant, to be executed.
In his letter to Kerry, Moore encouraged him to denounce Ibrahim’s sentence as “cruel and inhumane, to demand her release, and to use the diplomatic influence of the State Department to advocate for this most fundamental human right, the freedom of religion and belief.”
Sudanese judge Abaas Al Khalifa confirmed Ibrahim’s death sentence for “apostasy” (leaving Islam) May 15, according to Morning Star News, which reports on the persecution of Christians globally. “The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead,” Al Khalifa told Ibrahim after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her. Al Khalifa had given her 15 days to recant upon announcing his original sentence April 30.
Ibrahim, whose first name is spelled Mariam in some reports, told Al Khalifa in court, “I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim.” Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
Al Khalifa also reinforced a second sentence originally announced April 30 — 100 lashes for adultery. Marriage to a Christian is considered illegal under the Islamic law known as sharia. Authorities reportedly plan to carry out the whipping, then the execution, after Ibrahim recovers from childbirth.
Moore told Kerry in his letter, “The use of state power to enforce belief of any religion — Islam, Christianity or otherwise — is outside the authority of any government. That such an arrangement culminates in the arrest, torture, and execution of an otherwise law-abiding pregnant woman is abhorrent and should be condemned outrightly by the leadership of the United States government.”
Moore also said, “As our own Baptist forebears were persecuted by civil authorities for defying state authority over religious matters, we must again reassert on behalf of [Ibrahim] that faith, by definition, cannot be coerced or legislated and that no person should be imprisoned or executed for religious belief.”
Other religious liberty advocates also are calling for a robust response by the Obama administration.
Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., a longtime advocate for international religious freedom, urged Kerry and President Obama to act quickly. Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., and he are joining Sens. Roy Blunt, R.-Mo., and Kelly Ayotte, R.-N.H., in asking Kerry to provide political asylum to Ibrahim, Wolf said in a May 20 speech to the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The administration must urgently act to save this innocent woman’s life. President Obama should immediately appeal for her release and offer safe haven,” Wolf said.
Ibrahim’s death sentence is the latest evidence of Sudan’s standing as one of the world’s worst violators of religious liberty. The State Department has listed the militant Islamic regime in Khartoum among its “countries of particular concern” (CPC) since 1999, the first year such designations were made by the U.S. government. Only eight countries are on the State Department’s CPC list, which is reserved for governments with the most severely repressive policies toward religious freedom.
Ibrahim, a 27-year-old doctor born in western Sudan, is married to Daniel Wani, a citizen of the country of South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in 2011. Wani, a Christian, also is a U.S. citizen. Their marriage could be dissolved. Unless Ibrahim’s case is dismissed on religious rights grounds and their marriage maintained, their children will become wards of the state to be reared as Muslims.
“She might deliver her baby any time from now up to June 1,” Wani told Morning Star News. “She is weak but she is not afraid of death.”
Ibrahim has been under regular pressure to reject Christianity since she and her son were imprisoned in mid-February. Before her May 15 court appearance, a Muslim scholar spent nearly 40 minutes trying to coerce her into recanting her Christian confession.
Her attorneys were to file an appeal May 18, which would postpone her punishment until another court decision.
One of her attorneys reported that Ibrahim is “very encouraged” by her support “from the international community. She hopes that people stand with her and her family until she gets her freedom.”
If her capital punishment is carried out, Ibrahim would be the first person to be executed for apostasy since Sudan’s 1991 criminal code made it punishable by death.
Ibrahim’s execution would violate Sudan’s constitution and international treaties to which the country is a party, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has promised to make his country more strictly Islamic since South Sudan’s secession. The creation of a new country came in the wake of a two-decade-old civil war between Sudan’s militant Islamic north and largely Christian south.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press. With reporting by Morning Star News. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).