Sudan: Death penalty for being married to a Christian
Sudan, action created 19.5.2014, petition is active
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a Christian Sudanese woman, was convicted on charges of 'adultery' and 'apostasy' and is at risk of being sentenced to flogging and death. She is currently in the eighth month of pregnancy and is held in detention with her 20-month-old son. She was sentenced to death on May 11, 2014 after she refused to abandon her religion. Amnesty International considers Meriam as a prisoner of conscience. Her sentence is unjust as she was punished for mere practising of her right to freedom of religion.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year- old Christian Sudanese woman, eight months pregnant with her second child, was convicted of ‘adultery’ and ‘apostasy’ by a court in Khartoum on 11 May. Meriam was given three days by the court to recant her faith, which she refused.
Treating adultery and apostasy as criminal offences is not consistent with international human rights law – including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – to which Sudan is a state party. 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. Meriam Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience, convicted solely because of her religious beliefs and identity, and must be released immediately and unconditionally. Meriam 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 a Christian South Sudanese man. Under Shari’a law as
practised in Sudan, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man, and any such marriage is considered adultery. The court added the charge of apostasy in February 2014 when Meriam asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim. According to Meriam, she was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her father, a Muslim, was absent during her childhood.
Meriam risks being sentenced to up to 100 lashes for adultery under Article 146. If she refuses to recant her Christian faith, she risks the death penalty for apostasy under Article 126 of the Sudan Criminal Code. The punishment of flogging violates the absolute prohibition against torture and other ill-treatment in international human rights law. 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.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim 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 a Christian South Sudanese man. Under Shari’a law, as practised in Sudan, a Muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-Muslim man and any such marriage is considered ‘adultery’. The court added the charge of ‘apostasy’ in February 2014 when Meriam asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim. According to Meriam, she was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her father, a Muslim, was reportedly absent during her childhood.
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 ‘Penalty 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.”
There have been no known cases of people executed for ‘apostasy’ in Sudan since the 1991 Criminal Code was enacted, but many have had their charges dropped or convictions overturned after recanting their faith.
In 2013, at least 21 executions were reported in Sudan. At least 29 death sentences were reported, but the real figure is believed to be over 100. The Sudanese authorities continued to use the death penalty to oppress real or perceived activists of political opposition groups. In July, the Sudan Armed Forces Act of 2007 was amended to allow for the prosecution of civilians in military courts for various crimes under Sudan’s 1991 military code, some of which carry the death penalty.
Over the years, Amnesty International has documented many cases of people sentenced to flogging in Sudan.