Sudan / Death penalty pronounced in apostasy case

Press release
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FIDH and its member organisation, the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), condemn the sentencing of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim to death for apostasy and to a hundred lashings for adultery and urge Sudanese authorities to revoke this decision. The verdict constitutes a serious violation of the 2005 Interim National Constitution and of regional and international conventions to which Sudan is party.

According to information gathered, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman in her ninth month of pregnancy, was convicted on Sunday 11 May 2014 of apostasy (ridda) and adultery (zina) under the 1991 Sudanese Penal Code. Ms. Ibrahim was convicted after the Al-Haj Yousef Criminal Court declared her church marriage invalid on account of her Muslim faith and upbringing, based on the court testimonies of a number of her family members. She is detained together with her 20 months old son. She was given three days to recant her faith or face death. She was then sentenced on 15 May, 2014, after she confirmed her Christian faith and declared she had never committed apostasy.

Ms. Ibrahim’s only ‘crime’ is her religious conviction. She has been sentenced to death solely on the basis of her religious beliefs, contrary to equality and non-discrimination guarantees in Sudan’s own Constitution and regional and international commitments made by the Government of Sudan. The sentences of lashings – a form of state sanctioned torture – and the death penalty must be revoked and Ms. Ibrahim released immediately, said Katherine Perks, ACJPS Programme Director.

Ms. Ibrahim 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.

The penalty for adultery under Article 146 of the Sudanese Penal Code is a hundred 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.

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.

Ms. Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience. This case highlights the urgent need for legal reform to protect fundamental human rights and freedoms in Sudan said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. It is the responsibility of the Sudanese authorities to respect and protect the rights of women, minorities and disadvantaged groups, not to impose harsh penalties on them based on their identity or belief. The laws applied in this case that allow for state-sanctioned torture and the death penalty - and restrict fundamental rights to equality and non-discrimination - must be over-hauled. It is absurd that a court of law may impose these unlawful penalties, he added.

The situation of Ms. Ibrahim is all the more alarming as it is not the first apostasy case in 2014. On 8 May 2014, Al Gadarif Criminal Court dropped charges against another woman accused of apostasy after she recanted her Christian faith and converted to Islam to avoid the death penalty. A criminal complaint had been lodged against her by a police officer at the National Identity office in Al Gadarif town after she applied for a national identity card. On application, she was asked to declare her own faith and that of her father. The criminal complaint was filed when she declared that she was a Christian, married with eight children to a Christian man, and that her father was a Muslim.

The sentence against Meriam Yahya Ibrahim illustrates the particularly inhuman nature of the death penalty”, said Florence Bellivier, FIDH Deputy Secretary General, member of the World Coalition against the Death Penalty. “In 2014, sentencing a pregnant woman to death for apostasy is a major regression contrary to all standards of international law, she added.

FIDH and the ACJPS call for the immediate and unconditional release of Ms. Ibrahim and her son. Our organisations urge the Sudanese authorities to revoke the sentences against Ms. Ibrahim, revise all legislation that has the purpose or effect of discriminating against religious and ethnic minorities, women and other individuals on account of their identity, and issue an immediate moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty and all forms of corporal punishment, in accordance with Sudan’s national, regional and international commitments. FIDH and the ACJPS call upon the international community, in particular the the African Union and the United Nations, to make all efforts to ensure that Ms. Ibrahim is immediately released and her sentence is revoked.

FIDH and ACJPS oppose the death penalty in all cases without exception.

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