This post is the second part of a two-part report by Professor Jon Yorke, following the litigation surrounding Meriam Ibrahim. The first part can be found here.
On 22 June 2014, the Court of Appeal, Khartoum North and Sharg-el-nil Criminal Circuit, quashed the 11 May Al-Haj Yousif Criminal Court sentence of 100 lashes and the death penalty for Meriam Ibrahim for the crimes of sexual immorality and apostasy from Islam.
Following her release from prison on 23 June, Meriam, her husband, Daniel Wadi, and their two children sought refuge in the US Embassy in Khartoum. On 24 June, she obtained an official visa and the family attempted to fly to the United States, but were detained by the National Intelligence Security Services at Khartoum airport. Meriam was charged with falsifying a South Sudan emergency travel document. If convicted she faced a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The global media campaign intensified against this apparent grave injustice. On twitter and facebook, “#savemeriam” and “#freemeriam” were “trending.” There were many “Free Meriam” campaigns initiated, including by Amnesty International and Emily Clarke’s Change.org petition, which both gained over 1 million signatures.
This significant civil society pressure helped strengthen political diplomacy. Many individual governments spoke out against the initial sentence and her re-arrest. For example, Mark Simmonds, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, called for Sudan to respect Meriam’s human rights. Then the FCO and the British Embassy in Khartoum closely monitored the situation and provided advice to Meriam’s lawyers.
In the United Nations, Rupert Colville, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, voiced the UN’s, “deep concern about the situation of Meriam Ibrahim.” In the EU, following the EU Presidency’s of the Parliament, Council and Commission, expressed their “deepest dismay,” at Meriam’s inhumane treatment, the EU’s European External Action Service raised Meriam’s plight in the UN Human Rights Council. The European Parliament then adopted a resolution on the case on 17 July.
During the bilateral and multilateral initiatives, Lapo Pistelli, the Italian Deputy Foreign Minister visited the region, and it is now clear that the Italian government performed a very significant role in the subsequent quashing of the charges, the family obtaining new visas and flying out of Khartoum late on Wednesday 23 July. Their plane landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Thursday 24 July, and the Ibrahim-Wadi family had a meeting with Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence.
Lapo Pistelli told Vatican Radio’s Susy Hodges, that the dialogue with the political authorities in Khartoum had been very fair and that President al-Bashir had stated Sudan had to, “rethink the Constitution and the Penal Code, and it is highly likely that the issue of apostasy will be modified and deleted.”
Susy Hodges asked, “Presumably…we have to thank the international outcry that broke out after the death sentence?” Pistelli answered, “Yes…the international attention given by the media has helped all the efforts of the international community or the American government or the Italian government, to be successful.”
On 1 August, Meriam and her family arrived in New Hampshire to begin a new life, and whilst welcoming her on a brief stopover in Philadelphia, Mayor, Michael Nutter, described her as a ‘world freedom fighter.’”
This human rights success story cannot be attributed to one fora of power or one single discourse. It is the weaving together of legal activism, political diplomacy and a unified civil society voice.
The global support for Meriam’s lawyers, the personal safety of the family provided by the US Embassy, the regional, and governmental diplomacy, with the important role of Italy, all came together to ensure that further gross human rights violations did not befall the Ibrahim-Wadi family in Sudan.