(CNSNews.com) – After taking flak for days from Western governments, U.N. human rights officials and others over the sentencing to death of a pregnant Christian mother convicted of apostasy, the Islamist government in Khartoum on Wednesday gave its reaction: “respect the laws and legislations of Sudan.”
The response came in a form of a statement by junior foreign minister Obeidalla Mohamed Obeidalla, released through Sudan’s state news agency.
It said the ministry was working to convey to international and regional organizations “facts about current issues in Sudan, such as the apostasy case” as well as the recent detention of a prominent opposition politician.
“Dr. Obeidalla underscored the importance of respect to the legislations and laws of countries, which are part the national sovereignty of states,” the statement said. “He added that as much as Sudan respects the laws of other nations, the others are also required to respect the laws and legislations of Sudan.”
A Sudanese court last Thursday sentenced Meriam Ibrahim – who is married to an American citizen – to death after she refused to recant her Christian faith. Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant and is incarcerated together with her 20 month-old son, was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery. The court ruled that the sentences would be carried out after Ibrahim has given birth to and weaned the child in her womb.
Under article 126 of Sudan’s penal code any Muslim who publicly declares the adoption of a religion other than Islam commits apostasy and is subject to the death penalty. If the convicted person reconverts to Islam, the sentence is waived.
Because Ibrahim married a Christian – a marriage deemed invalid under shari’a – she was also found guilty of adultery. Article 146 of the penal code provides punishment of 100 lashes for anyone found guilty of the offense.
In further official reaction, Sudan’s embassy in Washington issued a statement denying that Sudan was violating Ibrahim’s human rights, asserting that its judiciary was independent, and that “Sudanese judges are qualified and dignified.”
“This case remains a legal issue and not a religious or a political one. It is unwise and dangerous to politicize the issue at hand to spur religious tension between the two peaceful faiths with similar foundations,” the statement said. “Notably, It is important to emphasize that freedom of choice is the cornerstone of both Islam and Christianity.”
The embassy also disputed some key issues in the case, saying Ibrahim was born on Jan. 1, 1986 to Muslim parents – not to a Muslim father and a Christian mother as claimed.
“The claim that the mother is an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia is untrue,” it said.
It also said her real name was Abrar Elhadi Muhammad Abdallah Abugadeen, and that there was no official record of it having been changed. (Meriam, or Mariam, is a Christian name, Arabic for Mary.)
(While legally pertinent in this particular case, critics say the issue of Ibrahim’s parentage is irrelevant to the broader right of every person – in the words of U.S. rights experts – to “adopt, change or retain a religion of one’s choice, and to manifest their religion in practice, observance and worship, as well as the right not to be subject to discrimination or coercion on religious grounds.”)
The embassy said the sentence imposed on Ibrahim will be carried out within two years, if confirmed by Sudan’s Appeal Court, Supreme Court and Constitutional Court.
No word from Kerry
In the U.S., Senators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) are leading calls for the administration to secure Ibrahim and her son’s release and grant them asylum. The administration has condemned the sentence but has not acknowledged that she, her son and unborn child are the wife and children of a U.S. citizen.
Secretary of State John Kerry has yet to speak publicly about Ibrahim’s plight but at least two of his European counterparts – in Britain and the Netherlands – have summoned Sudanese diplomats for a formal protest, urging Khartoum to uphold international conventions it has signed on freedom of religion and belief.
In his statement, Obeidalla referred to, but played down, “the trend of some countries to summon Sudan ambassadors to them concerning issues in Sudan,” saying such actions are normal in diplomacy.
He also said that while some countries “have shown disturbed positions on issues in Sudan,” others had “expressed their understanding of the steps that were adopted by Sudan in accordance with its own national legislations.”