Wife of American citizen sentenced to death for apostasy by Muslim court

A pregnant Christian woman has been sentenced to death in the Sudan after she refused to abjure his faith. Judge Abbas Mohammed al Khalifa said that Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, had been given three days to recant. "We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged," said the judge to Ishaq, addressing her by her father's Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah. I
 
Ishaq, while her father is a Muslim, is the daughter of Christian mother who raised her in a Christian home. The condemned woman had been charged in the court for apostasy and adultery for having married an American citizen and Christian man from South Sudan. The Islamist government of Sudan considers all persons born in Sudan of Muslim fathers are automatically considered to be Muslims themselves. 
 
Earlier during the hearing, a Muslim cleric spoke to Ishaq privately in the caged dock in the court and harangued her to recant her faith. Media reports indicate that Judge Khalifa asked Ishaq to "return" to Islam. When she answered, "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy," the death sentence was handed down.  Judge Khalifa also sentenced Ishag to 100 lashes for "adultery” since under Sudanese Islamic law a Muslim who marries a non-Muslim is considered an adulterer and liable to punishment. Ishag appeared before the court in traditional Sudanese raiment and with her head covered. She revealed little emotion when Khalifa handed down the verdict in Khartoum’s Haj Yousef district, an area where many Christians live. 
 
Ishaq is currently in jail, as is her 20-month-old son, an American citizen. She will be allowed to give birth to the child she is still nurturing within her and raise it for two years. At that time, her children will be taken from her and the sentence meted out. Since her husband Daniel Wani is Christian, the Sudanese Islamist court will not release the children to him.
 
Faith J. H. McDonnell of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a human rights advocacy group, reacted to the sentence. “We strongly condemn the appalling treatment of Mariam Yahya Ibrahim. This young wife and mother has been a Christian her whole life, and imposing a fraudulent claim by Islam on her because her absent father -- who abandoned his family -- was a Muslim violates international standards of human rights and religious freedom. “
 
On May 16, McDonnell signaled her group’s disapproval at the Obama administration’s handling of this affront to human dignity. IRD also criticized the Obama administration for having tardily given the “terrorist” label to Boko Haram – the violent Muslim sect currently afflicting Nigeria. As for the Sudan, McDonnell said, "Moreover, we are extremely distressed by the inaction of the United States government on behalf of American citizen Daniel Wani and his family. If Daniel had received in a timely manner the applied-for spousal visa to bring his wife to the United States, none of this would have happened. Now the wife of an American citizen, a 20-month old American citizen -- their son, Martin, and an unborn American citizen are all incarcerated. “ McDonnell called for solidarity with Ishaq and her family.
 
Speaking for the United Kingdom was Mark Simmonds, the minister for Africa,  who said he is “truly appalled" by the death penalty. "This barbaric sentence highlights the stark divide between the practices of the Sudanese courts and the country's international human rights obligations," he said in a statement.
 
Ishag, dressed in traditional Sudanese robes with her head covered, reacted without emotion when Abbas delivered the verdict at a court in the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef where many Christians live.


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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