Tag Archive | "Sudan"

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim’s Case Shines Light on the Darkness of Apostasy Laws

The tragedy of Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year old Sudanese Christian who was convicted of apostasy on May 15, should be familiar by now. On Tuesday, June 9, an appeals court in Khartoum began reconsidering her sentence. The appellate court overturned her conviction on June 23 and released Meriam from prison. Less than 24 hours after her release, Sudanese officials re-arrested Meriam, her husband, and her two children and accused her of travel document forgery and providing false information. After two days of detention at the airport, the family was re-released and is now staying at the U.S. embassy in Khartoum on the condition that she stay in Sudan.


Meriam was convicted of apostasy after she married Daniel Wani, a Sudanese Christian man with U.S. citizenship. Even though Meriam’s mother raised her as an Orthodox Christian, her estranged father is Muslim, and, by extension, so is Meriam under Sudanese law. Her self-identification as a Christian led to the apostasy charge.


Though Khartoum’s seesawing between arrest and release warrants outrage by itself, Meriam suffered even more severe persecution for her faith. Meriam was eight months pregnant when she was imprisoned and was forced to give birth to her child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. As she recounted in an interview to CNN: “I gave birth chained. Not cuffs but chains on my legs. I couldn’t open my legs so the women had to lift me off the table.” Prior to her acquittal, Meriam faced a punishment of 100 lashes and death by hanging. Sudanese officials also threatened to take custody of both of Meriam’s children.

Meriam Ibrahim

Meriam Ibrahim was re-arrested on forgery charges the day after she was released from imprisonment for apostasy.


Under Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Law of 1991apostasy is defined as the renouncing of Islam, either by refusing to follow Islam or converting to another religion. Apostates, including Meriam, are given a chance to repent, but if they refuse, as Meriam did, they are punished with death. Apostasy laws obviously violate the basic human right to religious liberty. Under Article 18 of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights, freedom of religion “includes freedom to change [one’s] religion or belief” and the U.N. Human Rights Committee interpreted the religious freedom guarantees in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to entail “the right to replace one’s current religion or belief with another.”


Historically, apostasy was tied to the rebellion against the Islamic state, not merely falling away from the faith. Gradually, however, various Islamic scholars contorted this original understanding and began defining apostasy as renouncing Islam and added the death penalty for unbelief.


Today, tragically, there are many people convicted of apostasy around the world whose plight does not receive the attention it deserves and needs.


A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 20 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific have laws penalizing apostasy. These laws are often so overly inclusive as to be almost limitless. Governments use apostasy bans as a tool to persecute people for unorthodox religious beliefs and for converting from Islam and to repress Muslim political reformers who challenge the legitimacy of their regimes.


In their survey of apostasy and blasphemy laws, human rights scholars Paul Marshall and Nina Shea show just how far reaching these laws can be. For example, in Iran it is a criminal offense to “fight against God” and to “create anxiety in the minds of the public.” Pakistan prohibits any statement that “directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed.” And in Egypt, a person who converts from Islam may be officially prosecuted under a statute prohibiting degrading Islam. Apostasy laws often co-exist with constitutions that protect freedom of religion. Article 38 of Sudan’s own constitution provides that “no person shall be coerced to adopt such faith, that he or she does not believe in, nor practice services to which he or she does not voluntarily consent.”


Private individuals and groups often mete out punishments that are even more severe than those that are officially sanctioned. Two weeks ago, for example, the New York Times reported that a father from Pakistan fled to Afghanistan to escape his family who threatened to kill him and his three-year-old son for converting to Christianity.


Official and extra-judicial apostasy laws clearly violate the fundamental right to choose, and change, one’s religion, and Meriam’s conviction highlights the intolerance, severity, and cruelty of such laws. Despite all of the public support for Meriam, the U.S. State Department only publicly denounced her imprisonment on June 12. Secretary of State John Kerry correctly urged “the Sudanese judiciary and government to respect [Meriam’s] fundamental right to freedom of religion” and “to repeal its laws that are inconsistent with its 2005 Interim Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.” Prior to this statement, however, the State Department had only stated that it was “deeply disturbed” by the sentence and apparently would not recognize the couple’s children as U.S. citizens without DNA testing even though Daniel holds U.S. citizenship. There are also reports that the State Department “discouraged congressional leaders from speaking out publicly on behalf of” Meriam and her family.


Rather than retreat from such blatant affronts to the fundamentally and eternally important right of religious freedom, the United States, and American citizens, churches, synagogues, and mosques, should work feverishly and publicly to renounce apostasy laws and to obtain the release of those imprisoned for their faith. The United States should not withhold good from those who deserve it, especially when it has the power to declare and to show that those convicted of apostasy will not suffer alone.


Bryan Neihart recently graduated from the University of Denver with a J.D. and a master’s degree in international human rights.

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Critical Analysis: Don’t forget the “Lost Boys” of Sudan

The name “Lost Boys” was given to a group of over 20,000 boys, between the ages of 5 and 17, who were separated from their families during the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005).  These “Lost Boys” of Sudan trekked enormous distances over a vast unforgiving wilderness, seeking refuge from the fighting that emerged when their Christian villages in southern Sudan were attacked by northern Islamist forces.  Orphaned, these boys traveled a thousand miles across 3 countries, Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia.  During their journey, half of the boys died due to starvation, dehydration, disease, and attacks by wild animals and enemy soldiers.  It took these boys 5 years to find safety in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.  U.N. workers gave the “Lost Boys” their name after the lost boys in the fabled Peter Pan story.

Omar al-Bashir

Omar al-Bashir faces arrest warrants for criminal violations of the Rome Statute.

In 2000, the United States along with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees resettled approximately 3,800 Lost Boys in the United States across 38 cities.  The program was stopped after 9/11 for security reasons, though it was eventually restarted in 2004.  As these boys prepared to leave their refugee camps for America, they had to be prepared for a life that they could barely comprehend.  They had to be taught the concept of an electric stove, indoor bathrooms, and winter; essentially a crash course in America 101.  While many of the Lost Boys have become successful, attending medical school, law school, and joining the U.S. military, not all have been so fortunate.  It is no surprise that the horrors they faced as children compounded with being shipped to an unknown country, that some have turned to alcohol, drugs, and crime.

The perpetrator of these unimaginable horrors is Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.  He came into power in a coup in 1989 and has ruled Sudan with an iron fist ever since.  There are currently 2 arrest warrants for President al-Bashir from the International Criminal Court (ICC).  It is alleged that he is criminally responsible for 10 violations of the Rome Statute based upon his individual criminal responsibility.  The counts include 5 counts of crimes against humanity, 2 counts of war crimes, and 3 counts of genocide.  These warrants require member countries to detain him if he enters into their territories.

Bashir has applied for a U.S. visa so that he may attend the upcoming U.N. General Assembly where he is scheduled to speak.  He would be the first head of state to address the U.N. General assembly while facing charges from the ICC, if he shows up as scheduled.  The U.S. government has made it clear that it does not want Bashir to arrive in New York, but the U.S. has never banned a visiting head of state that wants to speak to the U.N.  Furthermore, per a treaty dating back to 1947, the U.S. is obligated to issue the visa as the U.N. body’s host country.  Bashir says he has already booked his flight and hotel and that he is not worried about U.S. authorities arresting him, as demanded by international human rights groups, since the U.S. is not a member of the ICC.  Bashir says he has a right to attend the U.N. assembly and that “[n]obody in the U.S. can question me or hold me.”

The Lost Boys suffered as children and still suffer from those memories as adults.  Though the U.S. is not a member of ICC, it has ratified the Geneva Convention that punishes those who commit genocide and it has transferred suspects to the ICC before. If he appears in New York, let’s hope that the U.S. remembers the horrors the Lost Boys and millions of others have suffered at the hands of al-Bashir and that the U.S. takes al-Bashir into custody.

Sarah Emery is a 3L and the Executive Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy

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Sources: CNN, AFP, BBC

News Post: Sudan and S. Sudan Sign Agreement to Open Border

Sources: CNN, AFP, BBC

Sources: CNN, AFP, BBC

This week, the countries of Sudan and South Sudan signed their first accord since South Sudan gained independence in July. The two sides, in a deal mediated by officials from the African Union, agreed to open ten border crossings between the two countries. They will consult with the joint technical committee responsible for border demarcation before meeting again next month to determine the final locations of the crossings. Six soldiers from each country and six neutral soldiers from Ethiopia will guard the border crossings.

According to the BBC’s James Copnall, “the real significance of the deal is perhaps that it shows Sudan and South Sudan want to show they can work together.” The two countries appeared optimistic that the deal could improve the relationship between the two countries. After the signing of the agreement, Sudan’s Defense Minister, Abdelrahim Mohammed Hussein, said, “today we agreed to open 10 border crossings, to facilitate the movement of people and communication between the people of the two countries,” and South Sudan’s Defense Minister, John Kong, described the meeting as “successful.”

Despite the agreement, the demarcation and the security of the border between the two countries remains a major issue. Three separate conflicts have occurred in the border region in the last few months. Fighting persists in the Sudanese border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile between the Sudanese army and ex-rebels with ties to South Sudan. Three hundred UN-sanctioned Ethiopian troops remain at the border to monitor a demilitarized zone that is six miles wide on both sides of the border.

The relationship between the two countries remains tense, as both sides have declared the other has violated the separation agreement. Sudan accused South Sudan of supporting rebels fighting in border states, which South Sudan denies. However, Sudan appears to be retreating from that position after Defense Minister Hussein stated, “there are no allegations against the government of South Sudan and there are no differences between us on Blue Nile and South Kordofan.” On the other hand, South Sudan has recently accused Sudan of attempting to damage its economy with a cargo embargo, causing runaway inflation within the newly formed country.  Sudan proffers that it implemented the embargo to protect its own economy before South Sudan’s independence.

Although the agreement to open the border shows the two countries are willing to work together, there is still a long way to go before the conflict between the two countries is settled. The border remains disputed, without demarcation, a process that will inevitably increase tensions, as both sides assert claim jurisdiction over Abyei. The two sides have also failed to form an agreement on oil. However, any agreement and cooperation between the two countries represents a positive step towards settling the conflict and achieving peace in the region.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law