BEIRUT: A group of protesters gathered outside the Sudanese Embassy in Beirut Saturday morning, to call for the immediate release of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq.
Ibrahim was arrested in February charged initially with adultery and subsequently with apostasy, and was taken into custody with her 20-month-year-old son. She was 8 months pregnant at the time and gave birth to a baby girl in prison last week.
The court found Ibrahim guilty of both charges last month, sentencing her to 100 lashes for adultery and execution for apostasy.
The adultery charge was upheld on the grounds that she both married and bore children from a Christian man, Daniel Wani, an American citizen, while she - based on her father’s religion – is considered a Muslim. The marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man in Sudan can be a complex issue, subject to varying interpretations of Sharia law, as well as cultural and familial prejudices.
This is despite Ibrahim herself identifying as a Christian, having being raised as such by her Christian mother in her father’s absence. It was her assertion of that Christian identity in her trial that led to the second charge of apostasy.
“We are here in solidarity with Meriam Yahia from Beirut, and we want to express our solidarity for everybody’s right to freedom of religion and belief so everybody can choose what they consider the most appropriate religion for them,” said Saida Allaw, a journalist with As-Safir, during the brief protest.
“In the 21st Century, [there is no place for penalties] such as lashing and execution or conviction for apostasy; dictatorial regimes will have to wake up.”
The protest was organized by women’s rights group, Fe-Male, and attracted widespread media attention. Alyia Awada, one of the event organizers, read out a message to the Sudanese government from the protesters:
“We are here today to raise our voices high, calling on the Sudanese government to release Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishaq and revoke the death sentence against her. This is conformity with international human rights standards and in response to all appeals from Arab and international organizations calling for revocation of this verdict that is not based on anything else other than the whims of the patriarchal society. It is high time to save women from your delusory justice.”
The protesters flanked Awada as she read the statement carrying signs that read, “From Lebanon to Sudan, we are all Meriam,” and “Get Married and have a death sentence, free of charge.”
One of the founding members of Fe-Male, Hayyat Mourshad, told The Daily Star that she felt that Ibrahim’s case was an indication of a larger problem throughout the region.
“Two days ago in Akkar, a girl was killed because she decided to choose a husband that her father did not approve of. The execution is the same. True, circumstances may differ, but the suffering is the same and the type of violence that women face is similar.”
The group in front of the embassy was roughly a dozen strong but was distinctly lacking representation from the Sudanese community in Lebanon.
Mourshad stated that this was potentially the first of many demonstrations.
“Today's protest is symbolic, just expressing our position and that we are supporting this cause for the rights of Meriam. If the Sudanese continue to maintain their position we will consider a bigger mobilization in which we hope that the Sudanese community in Lebanon will take part, as well as women’s rights organizations.”
The Sudanese ambassador to Lebanon, Ahmed Hassan, said that there was too much confusion around the case at the moment.
“There is a big misunderstanding about the name of this girl, whether it is Meriam or Abrar and she was never registered in any university.”
Sudanese media have been reporting Ibrahim’s first name as Abrar, as her brother has reportedly claimed.
The Ambassador also said that several Sudanese universities released statements saying that she never attended their organizations, which brought into question whether or not she was a medical doctor.
But Hassan went on to say, “All the people are not agreeing with this decision by this court ... I hope they find a solution to the issue first of all.”