Ibrahim Posing

Sudanese Apostasy Case Draws Criticism And Petitions

The case of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for the crime of apostasy, has been gaining traction this week as critics from around the world comment on the situation. (See Inquisitr’s previous coverage of the apostasy charges here.) Petitions condemning the apostasy charge and calling for justice for the Ms. Ibrahim and her family have also begun to circulate, including this one at Amnesty International.

In the midst of the reaction, international leaders stepped in to comment, both on the particular brutality of Ms. Ibrahim’s treatment and on the notion of “apostasy” as a crime.

Hillary Clinton had this to say:

Fox News quotes a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State, on the topic of this apostasy case: “We have heard from many, many Americans that they are deeply alarmed by [Ibrahim’s] plight.” Still writing about the apostasy charge, she goes on: “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, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 interim Constitution.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), chairman of a house panel overseeing foreign policy in Africa, has called on the country more directly to reverse the sentence for apostasy, saying in a statement that, “The refusal of the government of Sudan to allow religious freedom was one of the reasons for Sudan’s long civil war.”

The apostasy charge and the related penalty were condemned from within Sudan too, with Kamal Omar, the Political Secretary for the Popular Congress Party decrying the incident (and presumably the concept of “apostasy” as a crime) as “a violation of the basic principles of Islam.”

The Sudanese law regarding apostasy and the court’s attempts to persuade Ibrahim to renounce her Christian faith both stem from an interpretation of sharia law that demands different penalties for men and for women in cases of apostasy. Males charged with the crime are put to death, but females guilty of apostasy are given a chance to “revert” to Islam. This method of dealing with apostasy is a religious one that is considered outdated and the result of an out-of-context intepretation of a (seeming) conflict between the Quran and a Hadith that is considered authentic and attributed to the Prophet Muhammed, as it is explained by a columnist at Al-Jazeera.

Ibrahim’s apostasy case has been temporarily put on hold by a provision in Islamic law which allows her two years to nurse before the sentence of execution is carried out. It is unclear whether the government of Sudan will back down on its attitude toward apostasy before then, but one thing is clear: the Sudanese government is going to hear about their apostasy laws from not only the West, but from Islamic critics as well.

Apostasy laws are not limited to Sudan, however. As recently as 2011, 20 countries had laws against apostasy, and there have been some incidents of prosecutions for apostasy in countries without apostasy laws. Typically, this happens when a country has blasphemy laws and they are interpreted broadly enough to qualify apostasy as “blasphemy.”

Media coverage of apostasy laws typically focuses on cases where women have been charged. It is currently unclear whether this is due to a disproportionate application of apostasy laws against women or an anomaly caused by selection bias.

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