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Sudan embassy defiant in face of execution threat to 'apostate' mother

Published: Wednesday, May 28 2014 1:04 p.m. MDT

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is seen with her husband, Daniel Wani. Ibrahim is in prison for "apostasy" and is sentenced to death.

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WASHINGTON — Sudan's embassy has issued a defiant statement claiming the pending execution of a 28-year-old woman accused of apostasy "remains a legal issue and not a religious or a political one."

The woman, described in a BBC news report as Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, but referred to by the embassy as "Mariam Ibrahim Yahia," gained worldwide attention when it was revealed the then-pregnant doctor was under a death sentence for having refused to renounce Christianity.

Ibrahim reportedly was born to a Muslim father and Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, although the embassy statement declares both parents are Muslims, and that "her family" filed a charge of apostasy against her after a 2011 marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian who holds dual U.S. and Sudanese citizenship. The couple also has a 20-month-old son, Martin, who is imprisoned with Ibrahim in Khartoum, Sudan's capital.

According to a news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, "Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. … Morning Star news reported that Mrs. Ibrahim testified before the court on March 4 that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as evidence."

Ibrahim faces 100 lashes and then execution after she gives birth. Her newborn daughter arrived early Tuesday morning in the Khartoum prison, the Guardian reported. She is also charged with adultery for marrying a non-Muslim, the penalty for which is lashing.

"The charges against her are a violation of her right to freedom of religion or belief, guaranteed under Sudan’s interim constitution and in the covenants to which Sudan is party," said Mervyn Thomas, CSW chief executive.

CSW has launched a social media action campaign, #SaveMeriam, to seek her release. Christianity Today magazine reports more than 1 million people have signaled their support for Ibrahim: "(M)ore than 620,000 actions have been taken via Amnesty International to appeal Ibrahim's death sentence. A Change.org petition has gathered more than 414,000 signatures, while the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) has gathered more than 236,000 signatures."

London's Daily Mail newspaper, however, suggests a more crass motive for the apostasy charges, an effort to cash in on a business Ibrahim started.

Ibrahim's "half brother and half sister — who had not seen her for decades — tracked her down so they could get rid of her and take over her successful general store, Meriam’s lawyers alleged," the Mail reported.

On May 16, U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, and Kelly Ayotte, R-New Hampshire, wrote Secretary of State John F. Kerry urging him to give "immediate action and full diplomatic engagement to offer Meriam political asylum and to secure her and her son's safe release." Presumably, the request would now also cover the newborn child.

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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