- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Obama administration should be step up efforts to free a Sudanese mother facing a death sentence for refusing to recant her Christian faith, lawmakers said at a House hearing Wednesday.

The meeting of the human rights subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee focused on the case of Meriam Ibrahim, with members saying failing to support her struggle for religious freedom could lead to greater intolerance both domestically and internationally.

In an overwhelmingly Muslim nation, Ms. Ibrahim, 27, was convicted of apostasy in May and sentenced to death while heavily pregnant. She gave birth to her second child, a baby girl, while jailed in a Khartoum prison. The Sudanese government lifted the conviction in June as international pressure increased, but she was arrested again at the Khartoum airport after she attempted to leave for the United States with her husband — an American citizen of more than a decade — and her two children.

The Sudanese government operates under a strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law, and apostasy is punishable by death. Though Ms. Ibrahim was raised as a Christian by her mother, she was found guilty of “renouncing” her Islamic religion because her father is Muslim. The same courts convicted her of adultery, because Shariah law does not recognize her 2011 marriage to her Christian husband.

Religious and immigration experts said Ms. Ibrahim’s case is not an isolated one, arguing the U.S. government must act now to protect religious liberty, rather than play down such cases as critics say they have done in recent years.

“History shows us, it’s not just about Christian faith,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican. “It’s about all faiths. When we don’t value that, the outcome is tragic.”

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith said he hoped the hearing would serve as an appeal to the Sudanese government, and vowed that the hearings would continue until the case against Ms. Ibrahim is dropped.

“One wonders why this matter had to come to a crisis stage,” the New Jersey Republican said.

Ms. Ibrahim is currently awaiting her release by the Sudanese government at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum.

Lawmakers as well as religious and immigration experts sharply criticized the administration’s handling of Ms. Ibrahim’s case. The State Department declined to attend the first hearing.

“Our State Department is failing us,” Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, said. “They’re American citizens, [and] we can’t get the Secretary [of State] to meet with them. Weakness is never good. We are weak. We are perceived as weak.”

While Ms. Ibrahim had the “courage to stare death in the face,” Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council said, the administration has not displayed the same courage.

“What has America done? [Religious freedom] is a core American ideal, an ideal that we should defend at home and abroad,” he said. “Indifference to religious persecution abroad can only lead to greater religious intolerance here at home.”

One Democratic lawmaker said there were some glimmers that the Obama administration’s slow diplomatic push was perhaps bearing fruit.

There are signs “this case is going to be resolved very soon,” Rep. Karen Bass, California Democrat.

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