Sudan: Woman facing death sentence on grounds of her religion must be released

The court case is due to start at 11 am on 15th May. Amnesty International has spokespeople available for interview. A heavily pregnant Sudanese Christian woman who could be sentenced to death by hanging for ‘apostasy’, and to flogging for ‘adultery’ should be immediately and unconditionally released, Amnesty International said ahead of the ruling expected tomorrow. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is eight months pregnant and currently in detention with her 20-month-old son. “The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is abhorrent and should never be even considered. ‘Adultery’ and ‘apostasy’ are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of “most serious crimes” in relation to the death penalty. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law,” said Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Christian Sudanese, was convicted on charges of ‘apostasy’ by a Khartoum court on Sunday and was given three days to recant her faith or face a possible sentence of death. She was also convicted of ‘adultery’ on the grounds that her marriage to a Christian man from South Sudan is considered void under Shari’a law as practiced in Sudan, and is likely to be sentenced to up to 100 lashes. Meriam was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her father, a Muslim, was reportedly absent during her childhood. She was arrested and charged with adultery in August 2013 after a family member reportedly claimed that she was committing adultery because of her marriage to her Christian South Sudanese husband. The court added the charge of apostasy in February 2014 when Meriam asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim. “Amnesty International believes that Meriam is a prisoner of conscience, convicted solely because of her religious beliefs and identity, and must be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Manar Idriss. “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes the freedom to hold beliefs, is far-reaching and profound; it encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief” “International law bars coercion that would impair the right to have or adopt a religion or belief, including the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers to adhere to their religious beliefs, to recant their religion or belief or to convert.” The criminalization of ‘adultery’ violates the rights to freedom of expression and association and invariably discriminates against women in its enforcement. The criminalization of ‘apostasy’ is incompatible with the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. For more information, please contact: Stefan Simanowitz + 44 (0) 20 7413 5729 or 07721398984 [email protected]. Background: 1. Apostasy is the formal disaffiliation from or abandonment or renunciation of a religion by a person. 2. Amnesty International considers the death penalty to be the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment and a violation of the right to life and opposes its use in all cases and without exception, regardless of the nature of the crime. International law – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Sudan is a state party – restricts the death penalty to “the most serious crimes”, which international bodies have interpreted as crimes involving intentional killing. 3. The Sudanese Criminal Code formally includes Shari’a law, including article 126, which states that “(1) Whoever propagates the renunciation of Islam or publicly renounces it by explicit words or an act of definitive indication is said to commit the offence of Riddah (apostasy). (2) Whoever commits apostasy shall be asked to repent within a period decided by the court and if he insisted on his apostasy and was not a new convert he shall be punished with death. (3) Punishment for apostasy lapses if the apostate refrained from apostasy before the execution”. Article 146 on the Punishment for Adultery, states that “(1) Whoever commits the offence of adultery shall be punished with: (a) execution, by lapidation [stoning], where the offender is married; (b) one hundred lashes, where the offender is not married.” 4. There have been no known cases of people executed for apostasy in Sudan since the 1991 Criminal Code was enacted. Many have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned after recanting their faith.