Free Meriam


It’s great to see the world taking notice of the routine abuse and violence perpetrated by the Sudanese state. This stuff happens all the time, but the case of Meriam Ibrahim – a Christian woman sentenced to death for “apostasy” – has managed to shine a light on the hidden corners of a brutal regime.

It seemed to have an immediate effect. On Saturday, a government spokesman said she would be released imminently. But by Sunday it all changed, with Sudan apparently “backtracking“. So what’s going on? A few points…

  • Shouting and screaming at Khartoum, threatening sanctions and the like, won’t help
  • The Sudanese government has apparently taken notice of world attention and I’m told President Omar al-Bashir himself is involved now in the case
  • Meriam will be freed
  • But it will take time, which is what the Sunday statements were really saying
  • What government in the world would simply bypass its own judicial system – however flawed  – to free a prisoner under outside pressure
  • In Sudan, the government has to balance the demands of a religious right reinvigorated since the independence of South Sudan
  • So the government is consulting clerics in order to draw up a face-saving deal that would allow Meriam to be freed on appeal, but which satisfies religious honour and accusations that Khartoum has bowed to the West

Also, and in light of the last point, how helpful is it to turn Meriam into a poster girl for persecuted Christians. Sudan has long been the target of evangelical Christians, keen on securing statehood for southerners. There is a danger this case is being hijacked by fundamentalists of one hue trying to get one over fundamentalists of another. #SaveMeriam uses the Christian language of salvation to make its point, for example, just like Save Darfur, which was dominated at its inception by religious groups.

Ultimately, Meriam has been locked up because she is a woman in a society where men – in this case her half-brother – abuse religion in order to protect a medieval social structure. I’ve written on this point for today’s Daily Telegraph and will add a link when it is published online.

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