MERIAM Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq, until recently an unknown 27-year-old pregnant Sudanese mother, is on the death row, after a court in her country convicted her of adultery and apostasy. She was sentenced to 100 lashes of the cane and death by stoning.
Her offence, according to the court, was that she renounced Islam and married a Christian man with whom she has lived for two years. The court held that Meriam, who has a Muslim father and a Christian mother “renounced” Islam. Evidence tendered during her trial, however, showed she never practised Islam since she preferred to stick with her mother’s religion. The court was unimpressed.
Under the sharia law, enacted in 1983, during the despotic rule of Gafaar Nimery, Muslims were forbidden to change their religion. The penalty for those convicted of renouncing Islam was death.
The irony of this discriminatory law which assaults the universal human rights of people to choose and practise any faith, lies in the fact that though they were of different religions, Meriam’s parents lived peacefully and raised their children. No court harassed them.
We view the death sentence on Meriam as inhuman. We strongly object to it. The barbaric judicial persecution is attracting almost the same level of universal revulsion as the abduction of the Chibok school girls by the Boko Haram insurgents in Nigeria. It follows in the odious tradition of targeting women and girls by religious extremists and denying them their right to education and freedom of choice. We witnessed similar incidents in Nigeria about 10 years ago, where sharia courts in Katsina and Sokoto States sentenced young women to death for alleged adultery. A wave of protests across the globe saved them. The protests should save Meriam.
In Sudan, just like the Katsina and Sokoto cases, nothing was heard about the man with whom Meriam committed the adultery. It is another proof that the law is discriminatory.
We hope Meriam would be supported to escape the clutches of Sudan’s oppressive system. A committee of United Nations human rights experts has described the conviction as “outrageous”, calling for its immediate overturning and Meriam’s release. It reiterated that the death sentence, if it must be applied, may only be for the most serious crimes. “Choosing and/or changing one’s religion is not a crime at all. It is a human right,” the committee said.
The trenchant determination of Sudan’s northern ruling class to impose Islam on a multi-religious entity was responsible for the 30-year civil war, Africa’s longest, that ended with independence for South Sudan.
Global pressure should be sustained on Sudan to respect the rights of its own people and give other Meriams a chance at choices.