On Thursday morning, nearly 100 protestors gathered in front of the White House to push for the release of Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old woman in Sudan who has been sentenced to death for marrying a Christian man. Representatives from the Institute on Religion and Democracy and more than three dozen affiliated organizations, including travelers from as far as Jacksonville, Fla., clasped paper red chains in their hands and gave speeches to urge President Obama to speak up in her defense.
Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced last month to 100 lashes and to death for apostasy for marrying a non-Muslim man, Daniel Wani. Her case has drawn western attention because her husband is a US citizen and because she gave birth while in prison. Her sentence has been delayed while she nurses the child, and she is being held with her newborn daughter and 20-month-old son while her case moves through an appeals process. “We’re here at the White House because it’s up to President Obama,” Faith McDonnell, event organizer and member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), says. “We need to get them out of prison and really it will take the administration to call and say you’ve got to stop this now.”
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a brief speech at the rally and Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) attended. “We are here today to speak out for faith and for liberty,” Cruz said into a megaphone. “Meriam Ibrahim is a mom, she’s a wife, she is married to an American citizen, a New Hampshire resident." He continued: "Her crime is very simple, she is accused of and convicted of being a Christian, and tragically in Sudan that is a crime that carries with it a horrific punishment."
Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) introduced a bill on June 9 to grant the mother and her children permanent resident status in the US, but Meriam supporters worry that the legislation would not pass quickly enough. Death rates at the prison are high, they fear, and many are concerned that the more time passes, the less likely the survival of Meriam, or her newborn baby, will be. Meriam's case deserves attention, they argue, especially because it is about religious freedom and women's freedom in the developing world more broadly. “This is an issue that completely shouldn’t be a partisan issue about whether someone should be executed for their faith,” JP Duffy of Family Research Council (FRC) says.
Other top U.S. voices are speaking out as well. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted last month that "Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s death sentence is abhorrent. Sudan should stop threatening religious freedom and fundamental human rights." Mia Farrow also has pushed a campaign on Twitter to protest Meriam's fate to the Sudanese Embassy.
The protestors plan to continue their efforts until action is taken. On Friday, they took their protest to the Sudanese Embassy. The hashtag #FreeMeriam continues to gain popularity, the website rescuemeriam.com has been created to further increase awareness, and a WhiteHouse.gov petition to free Meriam has received more than 45,000 signatures.