Sudanese Judge Imposes Death Sentence On Woman Who Allegedly Converted To Christianity And Later Married

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

Merriam's WeddingA twenty seven year old Christian woman, who is presently eight months pregnant, has been sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy and adultery. Having been born to a Muslim father, the Sudanese government contends that Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, was Muslim and that she later converted to Christianity before marrying her South Sudanese husband, a Christian. Sudanese law considers marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims to be invalid. Under Sudan’s interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous. Thus, her pregnancy is considered to be resulting from an adulterous relationship, punishable by one hundred lashings.

Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa sentenced Meriam to death and declared:

“We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged,” The judge addressed her by her father’s Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.

Ms Ishag reacted without emotion when the judge delivered the verdict at a court in the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef. Earlier in the hearing, an Islamic religious leader spoke with her in the caged dock for about 30 minutes. Then she calmly told the judge:

“I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.”

Amnesty International said Ms Ishag was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her Muslim father was absent.

Despite the attendance of Western officials from various embassies, and others pleading for reasonableness, no reprieve seems to have been made.

After the hearing about 50 people demonstrated against the verdict.

“No to executing Meriam,” said one of their signs while another proclaimed: “Religious rights are a constitutional right.” In a speech, one demonstrator said they would continue their protests until she is freed.

In a joint statement on Tuesday, four embassies expressed “deep concern” over her case.

Flag of Sudan“We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs,” the embassies of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands said in their statement. That right is included in Sudan’s 2005 interim constitution as well as in international human rights law, they said. The embassies urged Sudanese legal authorities “to approach Ms Meriam’s case with justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people”.

While Western officials have made a compelling case for this being a case of religious freedom pursuant to the Sudanese Interim Constitution, there are some troubling issues regarding allowance of Sharia Law to be considered constitutional by the courts.

The constitution does provide for several articles that could factor into the case; some in her favor and some not.

Under 32(3), Rights of Women: “The State shall combat harmful customs and traditions which undermine the dignity and the status of women.”

In this case one could argue the imposition of the state’s interpretation of Sharia Law prohibiting the right of women to enter into marriage with a person of their own choosing is unconstitutional. The Christian minority of Sudan is marginalized in their culture by the imposition of another culture’s values and traditions. This is further pronounced under the next article:

Stained Glass Image of JesusUnder 47 Ethnic and Cultural Communities: “Ethnic and cultural communities shall have the right to freely enjoy and develop their particular cultures; members of such communities shall have the right to practice their beliefs, use their languages, observe their religions and raise their children within the framework of their respective cultures and customs.”

This seems to be at a fundamental conflict with the statutory Sharia Law. The argument might be that conversion, apostasy, is not a constitutionally protected expression of religion. If Meriam had both parents who were Christians the courts might not have carried out the prosecution. But it seems Merriam, as being Muslim strictly by virtue of a Muslim father, cannot under Sudanese law ever renounce this religion, even though she has later in life claimed to not have been a part of this faith.

A lesser argument can be made under the freedom of association right:

40 (1) “The right to peaceful assembly shall be guaranteed; every person shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form or join political parties, associations and trade or professional unions for the protection of his/her interests.”

It would seem the act of marriage would constitute an association for the purposes of Article 40, but how strongly this is incorporated into any common law of Sudan is not known to your author.

Despite these constitutional rights another aspect of the constitution seemingly has allowed the court to impose a death sentence which is rooted in the constitution itself. Yet there are two restrictions on the state:

Restriction on Death Penalty

36 (1) “No death penalty shall be imposed, save as retribution, hudud or punishment for extremely serious offences in accordance with the law.”

Emblem of SudanThis is where the issue becomes problematic. Hudud is generally a term meaning a crime that is intrinsically illegal under Sharia Law and generally has essentially a pre-defined punishment. These include for this case Adultery and Apostasy. Hudud is considered one of the four categories of punishment in Islamic Law and is considered offenses against divinity. In a sense Merriam could be considered fortunate in that some interpretations of how the punishment might be administered make Adultery to be of a lesser offense if the convicted was not legally married to another, hence the lashings. Punishments for married persons can include stoning. But it is rather moot since her death sentence was for Apostasy.

The time frame for which the execution might be delayed due to subsection 3:

(3) “No death penalty shall be executed upon pregnant or lactating women, save after two years of lactation.”

Merriam is reportedly eight months pregnant and as such is supposedly safe from immediate execution. If she gives birth without complication she might be given a reprieve for another two years if she is allowed to nurse her child.

Yet, this is all it seems subject to how willing a Constitutional Court and a Human Rights Commission, established under the Sudan Constitution, will be to save Merriam from death or other punishment. Sudan’s reputation in the world for human rights is notorious, especially when its president Omar al-Bashir has an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court for allegedly being a co-conspirator or otherwise criminally responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. A charge he and the Sudanese government contests.

Yet despite this one of the articles in the constitution can some hope in the future, barring a change of governance on its own accord:

Under Article 27 (3): “All rights and freedoms enshrined in international human rights treaties, covenants and instruments ratified by the Republic of the Sudan shall be an integral part of this Bill [of rights].”

This possibly could be an avenue for which the international community might have some diplomatic influence in the long term and strategic sense. If Sudan was to be enjoined into an international agreement guaranteeing the human rights it might be a possibility the government of Sudan might change its statutes out of a constitutional requirement. The human rights agreement could be made to be conditional upon accepting an endorsement from the West for economic and trade agreements.

It certainly can be hoped that with the involvement and pressure exerted by the international community and dissenters within Sudan a second round of appeal might provide a face saving way of putting this issue to rest. But what Meriam is going to endure is certainly going to be an injustice no matter what the ultimate outcome.

By Darren Smith


Raidió Teilifís Éireann

Sudan Constitution via

Congressional Research Service–International Criminal Court Cases in Africa: Status in Policy Issues July 22, 2011

Wikipedia “Hudud”

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

114 thoughts on “Sudanese Judge Imposes Death Sentence On Woman Who Allegedly Converted To Christianity And Later Married”

  1. It’s a sticky wicket indeed, especially when the U.S. espouses fairness and democracy and yet sides with/promotes/creates/defends despots and killers in other countries where we dabble / meddle.

  2. I find it curious that we Americans are hit with these dramatic human interest stories (persecuted Sudanese lady and kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls) in two countries in Africa that are oil rich. I wonder if the U.S. is seeking excuses for military entry to oil-rich countries? After Iraq, one wonders. It reminds me of the incubators babies story in Kuwait that greased the activation of the U.S. military action. There are horrific actions that occur around the globe every day. Why in the world are these human interest stories from Africa so prominent in U.S. news, demanding urgent action? My heart wants desperately for all these women to be safe, but my head tells me these ladies may not have too much to do with the actual possible agendas over there. Follow the money over time and the motives may be revealed. Religion, after all, is a terrific divider of people.

    1. According to our State Dept. the group is not Muslim, however reports are they have trained Muslim groups. They also attacked the Chinese. After Benghazi I do not trust anything that comes out of the State Dept.

  3. I enjoy discussions about the First Amendment and its various prongs. Except the Religion Prong or what I call The Sintur Klause. A civilized nation state should entertain the practice of religion one day a year. In Holland, they do the Santa thing on December 5th or Sintur Klaus Day. Santa is about as close to religion as I want to get. I can deal with the flying sleigh thing and going down the chimney but that apCray about the Holy Ghost and Three Hail Marys only makes it with me in a football game. People who kill others in the name of God need to be killed in the name of Dog. Dog is the only deity on this Earth worth worshiping. Especially some of the puppies which appear on this blog. To the new guys visiting the blog, keep an eye out for the good animal articles.

  4. Paul Schulte
    You will find the word Religion in the Constitution…
    … You will not find the Holy Bible in it, ANYWHERE.


    The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” This clause not only forbids the government from establishing an official religion, but also prohibits government actions that unduly favor one religion over another. It also prohibits the government from unduly preferring religion over non-religion, or non-religion over religion.
    (continued at link w/ case citations)

    I hope this helps your understanding a bit better… ?

    1. Max-1 – our conversation was over the phrase ‘separation of church and state’ which does not appear in the Constitution. I am well aware of what the Constitution actually says, but thank you for sending me Cornell’s take on the Establishment Clause. 🙂

  5. I say, don’t do the crime of you can’t do the time. She know the laws of her country, and as a lawbreaker she needs to be punished. The judge is simply doing his job, and he has the law of the land as well as clear religious doctrine on his side. Who are we to say that he is wrong? Law enforcement’s job is to enforce the law of the land, period.

  6. Darren – I am thinking WordPress is like the Daleks – Exterminate! Exterminate! Exterminate!

  7. Paul Schulte

    Dredd – so, you are saying you are an expert on sharia law having written that screed that you posted earlier? Or you are saying that you lifted it from somebody else and because you are an expert on sharia law your recognize it as accurate?
    Find an expert on Baptist Law and I will find another one.

    We will compare drawls.

    It will be as coherent as two experts on Sharia Law.

    Bullshit is a religion after all.

    So loose the aura of knowing.

    Stick to expert opinion, or as in the case of this thread, just opinion.

    Same difference.

    1. Dredd – so, you are not an expert on sharia law, but you have an opinion. BTW, I am not sure there is something called Baptist Law. I know there is Canon Law and I used to know a priest who was an expert in it, but I am weak on other religions. Tell me about Baptist Law.

  8. Paul, Maybe wordpress gets a female vibe from you, kinda like Alan Alda, Phil Donahue, etc.

  9. Karen & Paul

    Nobody fully understands the mysterious ways of the WordPress Vortex of Doom. It is not of our world, and of an intelligence known only to itself.

  10. Paul – I tried breaking it up into 4 or 5 lines, and it still was eaten. Maybe it’s a subtle reminder to improve my prose. I wonder if there are key words or phrases.

  11. Karen – great post but now I can see why it was eaten. I wonder if the spam monster has a word count limit? I have had a few larger word count items eaten.

  12. Thanks, Darren. What are the filters, besides more than 2 links, so I can try to avoid getting lost in cyberspace?

  13. Nick – that is not true. I had one longish post yesterday that it refused four times, finally gave up.

  14. Karen, I think wordpress is sexist. It allows men to write more words than women.

    1. Thanks Darren, I was about to suggest a military style raid on the spam monster to destroy it. 🙂

  15. I can’t seem to post more than one line. Maybe this will teach me to be concise?

  16. I tried reposting again but it got eaten again. Could you tell me how to avoid the filter? My comments that I’ve lost a post go through, but not my post itself.

  17. China better start answering the 911 world police emergency calls…

    Boko Haram rebels from Nigeria attacked a Chinese work site in northern Cameroon on Friday and at least 10 people are believed to have been kidnapped, the regional governor said on Saturday.
    The Chinese embassy in Yaounde confirmed the attack at a site near the town of Waza, 12 miles from the Nigerian border close to the Sambisa forest, a Boko Haram stronghold.

    Idea for a Sudanese settlement: Don Sterling stiffs the NBA $2.5 million fine, negotiates the release of the woman for $2.5 million (money talks) and safe passage out of the country. The news media would have a field day.

  18. As other’s have pointed out, this is one of the consequences of combining church and state. State religions and their laws have no place in a civilized society. I doubt we will be able to help this poor woman, that is the sad Godawful truth, IMO.

  19. Paul Schulte

    Dredd – just to be clear are you or are you not calling me a buffoon?
    Yes, I am or am not.

Comments are closed.