'Apostate' mom still faces Islamic death sentence. Will global pressure sway Sudan?

Daniel Wani of New Hampshire says Islamic court ruling condemning his wife, who says she is Christian, to lashes and death is 'not legal.'

International pressure is growing on Sudan’s government to intervene in the case of a woman who was sentenced to death when she was eight months pregnant for refusing to recant her Christian faith.

An Islamic court in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, ruled last month that because Meriam Ibrahim’s father was a Muslim, so was she – despite the fact that she was raised as a Christian by her mother after her father abandoned the family.

This meant that her marriage to Daniel Wani, an American citizen who is a Christian, was illegal, the court said, and that she committed adultery by being married to him. Worse, judges ruled, she had deserted Islam, meaning she should die by hanging.

It is thought that one of Ms. Ibrahim's relatives in Sudan turned her into authorities for her behavior and beliefs. 

Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, and then to death for apostasy. That punishment is supposed to be carried out soon after she has finished nursing her daughter Maya, born in prison 12 days after her mother’s conviction on May 15.

Perhaps Sudan had not calculated, however, that the case would reverberate around the world, provoking Twitter campaigns, celebrity outrage, and diplomatic strong-arming over the country’s misogynistic legal system.

The State Department has said that the US was “deeply disturbed” by the sentence. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said Ibrahim’s treatment was “barbaric and has no place in today’s world.”

Tony Blair, Britain’s former leader, called the trial a “brutal and sickening distortion of faith.”

This past Sunday, the pressure appeared to be having the desired effect. A Sudanese foreign ministry senior official told reporters during a visit to London that Ibrahim would be released “within days," prompting activists to celebrate.

Ibrahim’s husband, Mr. Wani, a biochemist whose US home is in Manchester, New Hampshire, reacted with skepticism that turned out to be well-founded, saying that he would believe it when he saw it.

On Monday, the raised hopes were dashed when more senior government figures issued statements saying that there was a separation of powers in Sudan, and only the courts, not the executive, could rule on Ibrahim’s fate.

She remains shackled in her cell at the state-run Omdurman Women's Prison outside Khartoum, nursing her new baby daughter, and also caring for her 20-month-old son, who is currently in Sudan with her. 

Some warn the international opprobrium from countries traditionally not allied to Khartoum has made Ibrahim’s case a cause celebre, backing the regime into a corner where it cannot be seen to kowtow to foreign powers.

Campaigners including Amnesty International, which has taken up the cause, deny that and argue that without the outcry, Ibrahim would have been left to her fate.

"The decision of the court is basically wrong,” Wani told reporters in Khartoum recently. “It is an oppressive sentence against an ordinary human and its not legal.”

It will take a successful judicial appeal to see if that is the case or not. One of his wife's lawyers, Elshareef Ali Mohammed, has confirmed that an appeal had been lodged and that now there was little to do but wait for the wheels of Sudan’s justice system to turn.

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