Sudanese authorities must release pregnant Christian woman and review conviction for apostasy and adultery

(12 May 2014) Sudanese authorities must immediately release and review the conviction of 27-year old Meriam Yahia Ibrahim who was sentenced to lashings and death for the crimes of adultery and apostasy by a Khartoum Criminal Court on 11 May.

Ms. Ibrahim, a Christian woman who is in her ninth month of pregnancy and has been detained together with her infant child since 11 May 2014, was convicted by Al-Haj Yousef Criminal Court in Khartoum of adultery (zina) and apostasy (ridda) under Islamic law (Sharia) provisions of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. She was initially arrested and released on bail on suspicion of adultery in September 2013 after her brother lodged a criminal complaint against her, alleging that she was a Muslim and as such was cohabiting illegally with a Christian man. It was later established that the couple had married in a church in 2012 and had a child together.

On 11 May 2014 the Al-Haj Yousef Criminal Court convicted Ms. Ibrahim of adultery after declaring her church marriage invalid on account of her Muslim faith and upbringing, based on the court testimony of a number of her family members. The penalty for adultery under Article 146 of the Sudanese Penal Code is 100 lashes where the offender is not married. She was also convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death on account of converting to Christianity. Article 126 of the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code provides for the death penalty for any person found guilty of apostasy, a crime that is committed by any Muslim who advocates for the renunciation of the creed of Islam or publicly renounces his or her faith. The same article provides for the death penalty to be withdrawn if the defendant “repents” and “recants apostasy” before execution.

Handing down its decision on 11 May, the Al-Haj Yousef Criminal Court granted a period of three days for Ms. Ibrahim to renounce her Christian faith and return to Islam (referred to as istitabah in Arabic) to avoid the death sentence. The Court also invited two organisations, including Munazzamat al-Da’wa al-Islamiia, a non-governmental organisation affiliated to the Islamic brotherhood movement, to counsel Ms. Ibrahim on her faith.

An adultery case was also opened against her husband but dropped on account of his undisputed Christian faith and confirmation by the Court that he had married Ms. Ibrahim in a church.

The African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS) condemns the use of the death penalty in all cases. There is an urgent need for the Government of Sudan to issue an immediate moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty and to revise all legislation that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against religious and ethnic minorities, women and other individuals on account of their personal characteristics.

ACJPS considers that Ms. Ibrahim has been convicted solely on the basis of her religious beliefs and that her conviction is discriminatory in violation of constitutional and international law guarantees of equality before the law. The majority of adultery cases in Sudan are also issued against women, highlighting the discriminatory application of Sudanese law on grounds of sex.

Article 31 of Sudan’s Interim National Constitution of 2005 provides that all persons are “equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination, as to race, colour, sex, language, religious creed, political opinion, or ethnic origin, to the equal protection of the law.” Article 38 further provides that “[e]very person shall have the right to the freedom of religious creed and worship … no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he/she does not believe in, nor to practice rites or services to which he/she does not voluntarily consent.”

This case demonstrates the internal contractions of Sudanese law and its incompatibility with Sudan’s diverse population and international commitments.

Background

This is the fourth apostasy case documented by ACJPS since 2007. The last known implementation of an execution penalty for apostasy in Sudan was performed in 1985 against the late Mahmoud Mohamed Taha, leader of the Republican Party of Sudan, who was convicted of apostasy owing to his political and religious beliefs, including his opposition to the application of Sharia law in Sudan.

ACJPS documented increased restrictions on religious freedoms, particularly restrictions on members of Christian churches in Sudan, in 2013. This included raids on churches and harassment and arrests of church members by members of Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

International law strictly prohibits discrimination based on religion. Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Sudan, provides that everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of one’s own choosing and that no one shall be subject to coercion concerning that choice. Article 8 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights similarly provides that “freedom of conscience, the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed.” The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, interpreting Sudan’s obligations under the African Charter, has previously found Sudan in breach of its obligations under Article 8 owing to legal and other restrictions that inhibit the ability of individuals to freely practice their own religion.

Contact: Katherine Perks, ACJPS Programme Director, Kampala, on info@acjps.org or +256 775072136