May 20th, 2014
03:24 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - International pressure is mounting on Sudan to release a pregnant Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy, with members of the U.S. Congress asking Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on her behalf.
The proposed resolution encourages Sudan to respect religious rights if it wants the United States to normalize relations or lift economic sanctions on the African nation.
“I am disgusted and appalled by the inhumane verdict Ms. Ibrahim has received, simply for refusing to recant her Christian faith," said Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I also commend Ms. Ibrahim’s courage in refusing to renounce her Christianity, and I encourage her to remain steadfast. The world condemns her verdict and will stand by her in her moment of need," said Rubio.
The resolution was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma; Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware; and Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
The proposed Senate resolution adds more voices to the international outcry over the situation of Ibrahim, a Christian wife and mother who is pregnant with her second child while shackled in a Sudanese jail. Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen.
In a public letter to Kerry last Friday, Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Roy Blunt of Missouri, both Republicans, called the sentencing of Ibrahim "outrageous."
"We request your immediate action and full diplomatic engagement to offer Meriam political asylum and to secure her and her son's safe release," the senators told Kerry.
After State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that the Department of Homeland Security would have to oversee any asylum application filed by Ibrahim or her family, Ayotte and Blunt followed up with a letter asking the two departments to coordinate on the matter.
"Due to the nature of this case, it is critical that there is clarity between your departments regarding the status of the family and their previous requests for assistance from the United States," the senators wrote on Wednesday. "Any gaps in communication between the departments during this time are simply unacceptable."
On May 15, a court in Khartoum convicted Ibrahim of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith, and sentenced her to death.
But variety of factors - Sudan's legal system, differences between its constitution and Sharia law imposed by the sentencing judge, her pregnancy - ensure there will be no execution any time soon.
Ibrahim's lawyer argues the sentence should not stand, and an international outcry could pressure Sudan's government to intervene.
Sudan has not carried out an execution for apostasy for almost two decades, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In 1985, a man was executed for apostasy and sedition, according to the commission, for criticizing Sudan's implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law.
Rep. Trent Franks, a Republican from Arizona and chair of the House's International Religious Freedom Caucus, echoed the U.S. senators' calls to free Ibrahim.
"Such blatant disregard for the value of human life - and religious freedom - is an indescribable disgrace," Franks said in a statement. The congressman also encouraged the State Department to get involved in Ibrahim's case.
Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the State Department, has said the department is "deeply concerned" about the death sentence and called on Sudan to respect religious freedom and "approach this case with the compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people."
Government officials in Canada, England the Netherlands have also condemned Ibrahim's sentencing. Andrew Bennett, Canada’s ambassador for religious freedom, said his country is "shocked and appalled" that Sudan would impose the death penalty on a pregnant woman merely for practicing her religion.
Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left when she was 6, and she was raised by her mother as a Christian.
Her lawyer, Mohamed Jar Elnabi, said the case started after Ibrahim's brother filed a complaint against her.
The brother alleged Ibrahim had gone missing for several years and that her family was shocked to find she had married a Christian man.
Because her father was Muslim, the Sharia law court considered her to be the same. It refused to recognize her marriage to a Christian and also convicted her of adultery, with an additional sentence of 100 lashes.
Before imposing the sentence, the court gave her an opportunity to recant her Christian faith, but Elnabi said Ibrahim refused to do so, declaring: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian."
Attempts by CNN to contact Sudan's justice minister and foreign affairs minister about the case have been unsuccessful.
(CNN's Tom Cohen and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.)
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.