25 June 2014, 17:47

Majority of Sudanese opposed Mariam Ibrahim's conviction, defy religious oppression - expert

Majority of Sudanese opposed Mariam Ibrahim's conviction, defy religious oppression - expert

Miriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who was sentenced to 100 lashes and execution for converting from Islam to Christianity when she married a Christian American, has been re-arrested in Sudan just one day after she was freed from jail. She has been detained along with her husband and two children after they tried to board a plane in Khartoum.

Tina Ramirez, the Executive Director of Hardwired Inc., a non-profit organization working to end religious oppression worldwide, said that Ms. Ibrahim was apparently detained because she did not have the proper documentation to leave Sudan. "From what we understand, she had an emergency travel document form the South Sudanese Government in order to travel to South Sudan, where she was going to be further processed by the US embassy to travel to the US. So, all of the charges have been dropped and, as far as we know, there no new charges, but she is being held by the national security and detained until the documentation is produced," Ms. Ramirez said.

She added that no one has been put to death under the apostasy law since it was enacted in 1991. "The law is extremely fuzzy. There are two laws in Sudan. One is the Constitution which guarantees the religious freedom and another one in the criminal code which contradicts the Constitution. So, there were two laws at play here. We are not sure why the court changed their decision, but we do know that there was a big controversy in Sudan amongst the Islamic scholars over the legality of putting somebody to death for apostasy," she said.

Ms. Ramirez also noted that the Ibrahim case sparked a debate over apostasy, with many at odds over whether and how the act of abandoning the Islamic faith should be punished. "The case actually began when her family brought charges against her for adultery. And when she was in court, she claimed – I was legally married in a Catholic church, we are both Christians. The court then came down on her and declared her an apostate, because her father was a Muslim and she must therefore surely be a Muslim. But her choice had never been to be Muslim," said Ramirez. "So, the issue comes down to the freedom of choice, whether an individual has it or whether it is determined by your parents. It is unclear whether they will resolve that question. There are many legal procedures that could have been shifted, in order to have declared her free from the beginning, without having to accelerate it to the point of apostasy."

Mark Lagon, Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Human Rights at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former U.S. Ambassador to Combat Trafficking in Persons, also said that it is quite noteworthy that the majority of Sudanese Muslims opposed Ibrahim’s conviction, and that the international community should somehow try to influence such processes. "I do think that the world community should speak up and just as much as the US and John Kerry or the UK with David Cameron are to speak. It is important that people in the so-called global south – in Africa, in the ME, in the Muslim majority world – should speak up and say – violent punishment for apostasy from Islam is a basic violation of human dignity, as any culture or religious would understand it," said Mr. Lagon.

He also added that, in his opinion, the country requires some form of religious pluralism. "There needs to be a possibility for matters of conscience and worship to be decisions of people themselves. It is understandable that those of the Islamic faith in Sudan are concerned about a change of faith. It certainly should not be violently punished. And ultimately, the Sudan’s future and South Sudan’s future nearby depend upon a greater tolerance of those who look differently and think differently," he said.

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