WASHINGTON, D.C. The U.S. Senate has unanimously condemned the death sentence of a Sudanese Christian woman and called for the immediate release of her from prison and her children.
Senators voted by unanimous consent June 3 for a resolution in support of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, who was convicted under Sharia law for "apostasy" (leaving Islam) by refusing to renounce her Christian faith. A Khartoum court sentenced her to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian, Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese-born citizen of the United States.
The Senate resolution gained approval a week after Ibrahim gave birth to the couple's second child, a daughter, Maya, in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women. Martin, their 20-month-old son, also is imprisoned with his mother.
Rep. Trent Franks, R.-Ariz., has introduced a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives, but a floor vote has yet to take place.
Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, applauded the Senate action and called Ibrahim "a living picture of Jesus keeping his promise, made to us at Caesarea Philippi."
"Jesus said that He would build His church, and that the gates of hell would not prevail against it," Moore said in a statement. "As we thank God for the Gospel to which she clings, let's continue to pray that these actions by our officials will be the catalyst for [her] release."
Moore also commended a June 2 letter from Sen. James Inhofe, R.-Okla., urgently requesting Secretary of State John Kerry to "use all official and personal channels" to seek Ibrahim's release. In his letter to Kerry, Inhofe asked the State Department to explore providing political asylum to Ibrahim and her family.
"I ask you to use your powers of diplomacy to convince the Sudanese government to end this all too real and potentially deadly case of religious persecution," Inhofe wrote.
Moore, as well, wrote Kerry seeking robust action. In his May 20 letter, Moore encouraged Kerry to denounce Ibrahim's sentencing and to demand her release.
So far, the response from Kerry and the State Department to Ibrahim's plight has failed to match the requests from religious freedom advocates inside and outside Congress.
The Senate's resolution, however, not only condemned the sentencing and called for Ibrahim's release but urged the U.S. government to refuse to normalize relations with or lift sanctions against Sudan until the Eastern African country abides by "international standards of freedom of religion or belief." The measure also called for Khartoum to work to ensure its new constitution incorporates religious liberty protections.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R.-Fla., the resolution's chief sponsor, said after its passage, "While the Senate made strides in its commitment to religious freedom, Ms. Ibrahim is still in the fight of her life. The world is watching as we await the decision of the Sudanese court, and today's passage is a testament to our obligation to Ms. Ibrahim and her young family."
Inhofe was a leading cosponsor of the bill, as were Democratic Sens. Christopher Coons of Delaware and Robert Menendez of New Jersey.
If the Sudanese court refuses to relent, Ibrahim's death sentence reportedly would be carried out after she nurses her daughter to age 2.
The court confirmed the sentence May 15 after Ibrahim was granted 15 days to recant her faith. Ibrahim told the court, "I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim." Ibrahim reportedly was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
Ibrahim, 27, was under regular pressure to reject Christianity after her son and she were imprisoned in mid-February. Before her May 15 court appearance, a Muslim scholar spent nearly 40 minutes trying to coerce her into recanting her Christian confession.
She received the sentence of 100 lashes for adultery because marriage to a Christian is considered illegal under Sharia law.
Ibrahim's death sentence is the latest evidence of Sudan's standing as one of the world's worst violators of religious liberty. The State Department has listed the militant Islamic regime among its "countries of particular concern" (CPC) since 1999, the first year such designations were made by the U.S. government. Only eight countries are on the State Department's CPC list, which is reserved for governments with the most severely repressive policies toward religious freedom.