Meriam is free, but countless Christian women are not

Carolyn Moynihan
June 24, 2014
Reproduced with Permission

It took a few weeks for the death sentence meted out to Sudanese mother Meriam Yehya Ibrahim by a court in Khartoum on May 1 to make headlines of the Anglo media, though her husband is an American citizen. Yesterday, when her sentence was revoked, it was big news.

Early signs that US officials did not want to know about this Christian woman's fate were countered by a tweet from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on May 24:

Meriam Yahya Ibrahim's death sentence is abhorrent. Sudan should stop threatening religious freedom and fundamental human rights.

And after Meriam gave birth to her second child shackled in prison on May 27 the British Prime Minister David Cameron along with other politicians in the UK condemned her sentence as "barbaric" and protested to the Sudanese government.

These leaders should stand by for more action because Meriam is not the only Christian woman to suffer loss of her freedom and threats to her life where Islamic fundamentalists are in power.

Meriam received a sentence of death by hanging for allegedly leaving Islam, after a Muslim claiming to be a relative accused her of marrying a Christian man - the crime of "adultery" under Islamic law for which she was also sentenced to 100 lashes.

But Morning Star News , which broke the original story, reported yesterday that they had heard from one of her lawyers. "The court has served us with a letter stating that she is now free of charges," he told them. "Thank you for your work on the case. We knew we were going to win the case."

Morning Star continues:

Sudan's state news agency reported that the country's Court of Cassation canceled the death sentence against the 27-year-old Christian, who has been in prison with her toddler son since February, after defense lawyers presented their case. Witnesses for the defense had been prohibited from testifying during the trial.

Human rights advocates said Sudan must ensure protection for Ibrahim and her family, as Islamists have clamored for her death throughout the trial. She will likely seek asylum in another country on grounds of religious persecution. Her husband, South Sudanese national Daniel Wani, has U.S. citizenship.

Ibrahim has maintained that her Sudanese father was Muslim but disappeared when she was 6, and that she was raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Having never been a Muslim, she could not be guilty of apostasy, she testified.

A woman claiming to be Ibrahim's mother and a man who claimed to be her brother attended court hearings, according to Middle East Concern (MEC).

"However, Meriam did not recognize either of them, and they contradicted each other concerning Meriam's father and could not answer simple questions relating to Meriam's upbringing, leaving their claims and statements open to question," according to MEC.

International media, Western embassies and human rights groups urged her release when Ibrahim's death sentence was confirmed after she refused to recant her faith on May 15. Among those advocating for her release was Christian Solidarity Worldwide, whose chief executive, Mervyn Thomas, released a statement today asserting that Sudan must now protect her from Islamist vigilantes.

"We are delighted to hear that Mrs. Ibrahim and her children have been released into the care of her husband and that the unjust, inhumane and unwarranted sentences have been annulled," Thomas said. "However, we remain appalled by the threats and hate speech that has been aired seemingly unhindered against Mrs. Ibrahim and her lawyers and urge the international community to hold the Sudanese authorities to account for her safety and that of her lawyers."

Another woman raised as a Christian and falsely accused of apostasy in Sudan has been released after she recanted when threatened with the death sentence last month, sources told Morning Star News. Authorities had detained Faiza Abdalla, 37, in the town of El Gadarif on Sudan's eastern border with Ethiopia, on April 2 as she was trying to obtain her identification number at an official building.

Immigration/Citizenship police questioned her about her religion and arrested her on suspicion of leaving Islam. She is the mother of eight children.

But the position of Christian women, in particular, is a much bigger problem in the Islamic world. A Coptic Christian news site reports that hundreds of Christian girls have been kidnapped in Egypt in recent years:

The world reacted in horror and revulsion at the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian schoolgirls in April. But twice as many Coptic Christian schoolgirls in Egypt have vanished slowly, one-by-one, in kidnappings that remain unsolved.

Since January, 2011 through March, 2014, over 550 Christian girls were kidnapped by Muslim men and forced to convert and marry their abductors, often after suffering violence at the hands of their kidnappers, according to the Association of Victims of Abduction and Forced Disappearance (AVAFD).

coptic girlOften before these forced marriages, the traditional cross the Coptic minority tattoos on their wrists was erased with acid, according to Terrasanta, a Catholic news service.

The abductions have been going on for many years, with cases documented during Anwar Sadat's government (1970-1981). After the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a dramatic surge began.

"Before the revolution five or six girls would disappear each month. Now the average is 15."

When girls and women are abducted from 14 to 40 years old, 40% are raped and subsequently forced to marry their captors after their conversion to Islam, according to AVAFD.

The organization says some of the victims are coerced by young Muslims, who first gain their trust, then force them to convert and marry.

Many who have studied this phenomenon believe there is an organized network behind the kidnappings. Some maintain there are Islamic cells dedicated exclusively to the abduction of Coptic Christian girls and young women.

When it's a question of women's reproductive rights Western activists are ever vigilant. It would confirm their good intentions if they cared as much about the faith that their oppressed sisters value and the religious freedom that they so often lack.