On 11 May 2014, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim was found guilty by the Al-Haj Yousif Criminal Court of charges under the Sudanese Penal Code (1991), Articles 126 for the crime of ridda (apostasy from Islam) and 146 for the crime of zena (unlawful intercourse in the act of adultery).
Her husband, Daniel Wani, a US citizen, was not found guilty, but Mrs Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for the zena crime and death by hanging for the ridda crime. These are Shari’a Hudud punishments. She was detained in the Omdurman’s Women’s Prison, with her 20 month old son, and on 27 May, whilst shackled, she gave birth to a daughter.
On 22 May, Mrs Ibrahim’s lawyers filed in the Sudanese Court of Appeal, in the Khartoum North and Sharg-el-nil Criminal Circuit, and claimed that the lower court had made errors in both procedure and merit.
It was argued in the defence petition that the court made a procedural error in that it did not have jurisdiction to hold the marriage null and void, and that the Personal Status of Muslims Code 1991 contained no conclusive provision banning such marriage (Christian and Christian, see below). Further, Article 61 of the Code establishes that, “a void marriage does not yield any consequence of marriage,” and yet, it was argued, “this judgment has impacted directly on the Appellant, her child and her [then] unborn baby.”
As to the merits, after stating that there is “no compulsion in religion” (Surat Al-Baqara, verse 256), the defence brief identified that Mrs Ibrahim had been a Christian who attended Khartoum Catholic Church, and met her husband whilst a practising Christian. Her marriage was conducted in public at the church on 19 December 2011, and the authorities only became aware of the Ibrahim family in September 2013 when a man claiming to be her brother, informed the authorities that she had married a Christian and that she had committed adultery. It was the misrepresented position of her personal faith and beliefs that set in motion the horrific events that followed.
Mrs. Ibrahim’s lawyers, along with Redress, the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies, the Sudanese Organization for Development and Rehabilitation, the Sudanese Human Rights Initiative and the Justice Center for Advocacy and Legal Consultancy, submitted a Complaint on 2 June, with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. On 10 June, an Urgent Appeal was lodged with the Special Rapporteur on Women’s Rights, Soyata Maiga. It was claimed that Sudan had violated the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (“ACHPR”).
In essence, the claims were that Mrs Ibrahim suffered gender and religious discrimination under ACHPR, Articles 2 and 3, suffered torture and ill-treatment under Article 5, and that her right to liberty and security of the person had been violated under Article 6. Her right to a fair trial had been violated under Article 7, and her freedom of conscience and religion was violated under Article 8. Furthermore, her children’s rights were violated, contrary to Article 18(1), which states that “the family…shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical health and moral.”
As these appeals were pending, there was an immense global outcry by politicians and civil society, and on 31 May, Abdullahi Alazreg, Under-Secretary of the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, appeared to speak out of turn as he indicated that Mrs Ibrahim would be released. However, the domestic courts, and the African Commission, were still considering the case and so this statement was premature.
The Sudanese Court of Appeal judgment of 22 June, which overrules the Al-Haj Yousif Criminal Court judgment, is to be commended. It is judicial affirmation of the rule of law and a protection of human rights.
However, this case, and the international exposure it has received, has demonstrated that there are serious questions concerning women’s rights, religious freedom, the protection of the family, and the welfare of children, which the government of Sudan must address. If there is not legislative change to remedy these deficiencies, it is hoped that the lower courts in Sudan will adhere to this Court of Appeal decision and protect others from the horrific treatment which the Ibrahim-Wani family has recently endured.