After spending the past four months shackled to the floor in a disease-ridden Sudanese jail with her 20-month-old son, Martin, Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian wife and mother, gave birth to daughter, Maya, five days early.
Meriam, 27, was sentenced to death by hanging after being found guilty of converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian man, U.S. citizen Daniel Wani, who lives in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Before the birth, Meriam made the defiant claim that she would rather die than give up her faith. According to the Daily Mail, “If they want to execute me then they should go ahead and do it because I’m not going to change my faith,” she told Daniel.
An Islamic Sharia judge said that Meriam could be spared the death penalty if she publicly renounced her faith and became a Muslim once more, but Meriam insists she has always been a Christian and told her husband she could not “pretend to be a Muslim” just to spare her life. “I am not giving up Christianity just so that I can live. I know I could stay alive by becoming a Muslim and I would be able to look after our family, but I need to be true to myself.”
In 1998, Daniel escaped war-ravaged Sudan and traveled to America where he became a U.S. citizen. The biochemist, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, returned to Sudan to marry Meriam at a Christian service in 2011. Daniel traveled to Khartoum to arrange for Meriam and their 20-month-old son Martin to live with him in the U.S., but Meriam, who was pregnant with their second child, was arrested for adultery and apostasy and sentenced to be whipped and then hanged.
Meriam, a graduate of Sudan University’s school of medicine, told the court she was the daughter of a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Christian mother, but was raised as a Christian after her father left the family when she was six. Meriam produced a marriage certificate identifying her as a Christian, but the judge determined that because her father was a Muslim, she was a Muslim who had broken the law by leaving Islam. Meriam told the judge that her deceased Ethiopian mother had been born to Christian parents and had chosen to raise her in the same religion. Witnesses who were willing to give evidence on her behalf were barred from testifying because they were Christian.
The Sharia court has postponed her sentence to give her time to recover from childbirth and to wean the new baby. Her lawyer, Mohaned Mustafa Elnour, a Muslim, has received death threats for defending her, but he has already lodged an appeal. If he does not succeed at the Appeals Court, he will take the case to Sudan’s Supreme Court.
Governments, the UN and human rights groups have called on the Sudanese government to release Meriam and overturn both her death sentence and the sentence of 100 lashes. A petition calling for her release has reached more than 650,000.