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Death Sentence in Religious Freedom Case Prompts Interfaith Delegation Meeting with Sudanese Ambassador

Rabbi David Saperstein: “This tragic case reminds us that too many around the world are not yet free to practice their religion in safety.”

Contact: Max Rosenblum or Deborah S. Goldberg
202.387.2800 |

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 9, 2014 – Last Thursday, Rabbi David Saperstein joined a delegation of religious leaders in meeting with Sudan’s Ambassador to the U.S., Maowia Khalid. This meeting comes on the heels of a Sudanese court’s sentencing of Meriam Ibrahim to death for allegedly converting to Christianity (Ms. Ibrahim insists she had always been raised a Christian). Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of External Relations of Finn Church Aid, organized the meeting. In response to the sentencing of Meriam Ibrahim to be flogged and hanged, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center, issued the following statement:

“For so many in the U.S. religious community, the arrest and conviction of Meriam Ibrahim has been a source of grave concern. In an open and candid meeting, Ambassador Maowia Khalid met for an hour with a group of religious leaders long committed to religious freedom and human rights. We expressed firmly our pervasive legal, religious freedom and humanitarian concerns for Ms. Ibrahim, emphasizing the guarantees of religious freedom (including the right to choose and to change one’s own religion) in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Sudan is a signatory to, and the promise of religious freedom in its own Constitution.

The Ambassador, of course, explained firmly the Sudanese government’s position on the legal issues involved but also exhibited an openness in understanding the concerns we shared so clearly with him. The problem is that Sudan's criminal law of 1991, which is the basis for the sentence, does not match the constitution of 2005, which guarantees religious freedom. He indicated he would be willing to welcome a high-level religious leaders delegation to meet with government officials on religious liberty issues, and would even recommend allowing us to meet with Ms. Ibrahim. In laying out the process and opportunities in the appeals system for reversal of the decision, he left open the possibility that progress can be made on this case. I raised, as well, other concerns about the challenges faced by the 3% of the Sudan population that is Christian.

The Jewish community’s historic experience of persecution and the values of our tradition inform deeply held beliefs in the dignity of every person and fundamental human rights, including the right to worship freely as members of diverse religious communities, including minority communities. This tragic case reminds us that too many around the world are not yet free to practice their religion in safety. We urge that Meriam Ibrahim be released from her imprisonment, her sentences be commuted or overturned and an effort be taken to expand religious freedom for all religious groups in Sudan. If tragic cases like Ms. Ibrahim’s leads some in Sudan (whether in the government, in civil society forces and/or in the religious community) to engage in trying to enhance religious freedom, we need to do what we can to encourage that.”

Among the other key leaders in the delegation were:

  • Rev. Richard Cizik, President New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good;
  • Rev. Ron Steif, Executive Director, National Religious Campaign Against Torture;
  • Rev. Dr. Roy Medley, President, National Council of Churches - General Secretary, American Baptist Churches USA;
  • Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, Interim Associate General Secretary for Joint Action and Advocacy, National Council of Churches;
  • Virginia Farris, Public Policy Advisor, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops;
  • Dr. Sayyid Syeed, National Director, ISNA Office of Interfaith & Community Alliances.

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