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We must hope the tide is turning in favour of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese doctor sentenced to death for apostasy following her conversion from Islam to Christianity.
Following an international outcry, her death sentence was overturned by the Sudanese appeals court, but she was re-arrested on attempting to leave the country, apparently over her documentation. Dr Ibrahim (pictured) was then freed, and is now reportedly at the US Embassy in Khartoum.
International pressure on the government intensified after it was revealed that Dr Ibrahim was recently forced to give birth to her daughter while shackled to the floor of the hospital wing of a prison in Omdurman.
The BMA wrote to the Sudanese president to express its ‘profound abhorrence’ at the sentence, and called for Dr Ibrahim’s immediate and unconditional release.
Under Sudanese law, the original death sentence was to be preceded by 100 lashes on the grounds that her marriage to a Christian man was void under Shari’a law.
It can sometimes be hard to imagine how writing a letter or signing a petition can have an impact on a government with such an appalling human rights record.
But there had in fact been precedents of punitive sentences being overturned. In a recent Guardian article, Nesrine Malik, discussing the application of Islamic law in the country writes: ‘When these cases are brought to court, authorities in sudden fits of piety pass the harshest sentences, ones rarely carried out, to prove that the Islamic project still exists.’
The petition at change.org now has more than a million signatures. Organisers say that although Dr Ibrahim no longer appears to be under threat of execution, the campaign should continue until she is definitely free from threats to her liberty and wellbeing.
Amnesty, which is campaigning on the issue, has decades of experience in pursuing similar cases of injustice. It has welcomed Dr Ibrahim’s release but says it will continue to urge the Sudanese authorities to repeal provisions that criminalise acts of apostasy and adultery so no-one else has to endure the same ordeal.
Please do get involved and maintain the pressure to allow Dr Ibrahim to live her life and practise medicine freely.
Julian Sheather is deputy head of ethics at the BMA
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