Editor's Note: This blog was written by Enough Project intern Irina Balytsky
On July 23, one day prior to the release of Ms. Mariam Ibrahim into the custody of Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Omer Ismail testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations regarding this troubling case – a 27-year old mother sentenced to death by hanging for converting from Islam to Christianity. This apostasy charge is based upon the fact that her father is Muslim. Ms. Ibrahim, however, was raised by her Christian mother and had practiced Christianity all her life. Other expert witnesses included Dr. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Ambassador Joseph Rees, former United States ambassador to the Democratic Republic of East Timor.
Chairman Christopher Smith (R-NJ 4th) started the hearing by stating the intent – to present a strong appeal to the government of Sudan to free Ibrahim immediately and uphold international statutes on religious freedom with respect to all its citizens. Ranking Member Karen Bass (D-CA 37th) and Representatives Mark Meadows (R-NC 11th), Frank Wolf (R-VA 10th), Tom Cotton (R-AR 4th) were also in attendance.
The violence in Darfur that grabbed the world’s attention ten years ago has persisted and evolved into a pattern of discrimination by the government of Sudan against its people. Officially-sanctioned militaries and government-sponsored militias continue to perpetrate violence across the country. As a result, there are close to two million internally displaced persons (UNHCR).
Thankfully, Ms. Ibrahim is now free. However, Mr. Ismail stressed that there are “millions of Mariams” in Sudan; her case is not isolated but part of a system of repression by the Sudanese government. Dr. Jasser highlighted that the case of Ms. Ibrahim is “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the criminalization of minority views derived from President Bashir’s policy of Arabization and Islamization. Mr. Ismail asserted that the Sudanese government “flaunts a brand of Islam and promotes a racial identity that is exclusive and divisive,” disrespecting its own Constitution in the process. In addition to waging wars in Darfur, South Kordofan, and Blue Nile “to distort the ethnic composition of the country,” the government conducts a policy of religious intolerance – banning the construction of churches, bombing mosques, and discriminating against those who practice different faiths. The intolerance extends to Muslims who observe a version of Islam that differs from that espoused by the government.
Congressman Meadows asked Mr. Ismail to elaborate on a previous comment asserting that the Sudanese government “wants something” from the U.S. In response, Mr. Ismail explained that some elements in the Sudanese government may see the Ibrahim case as an opportunity to gain positive recognition from the U.S. Mr. Ismail further explained that the Sudanese government deliberately creates obstacles so that when they are overcome, the international community is appeased. However, these actions distract from the government’s failure to implement actual institutional reform.
Mr. Ismail called on the U.S. government “to support the moderate Sudanese opposition” in its fight for democracy and human dignity, stressing that the Sudanese people deserve to live in peace.
Read Omer Ismail’s full testimony here.
Watch the archived Hearing video here.