(Photo: The Christian Post / Sonny Hong)
WASHINGTON – A group of demonstrators representing over 40 different organizations gathered outside the White House to demand that Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy in Sudan, be freed.
Dozens of protesters, including U.S. Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, stood outside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. on a warm overcast Thursday morning to demand the freeing of Ibrahim.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Senator Cruz said that the effort to free Meriam Ibrahim was part of a grander need for the United States to address international religious liberty.
"There are assaults on religious liberty across the globe and Christians in particular are being persecuted across the globe," said Cruz, who called the Ibrahim episode "startling."
"We need far more leadership speaking out for religious liberty of everyone. And especially for Christians who are being targeted."
Cruz also told CP that he felt the pending death sentence for Ibrahim was "not an issue on which there should be any partisan divide."
"The reason this rally and protest is outside the White House is President Obama has to date failed to provide leadership on Meriam Ibrahim," said Cruz.
"And we are calling him, urging him, as citizens, 'stand up and defend American citizens, stand up and defend religious liberty.' There is no voice in the world that can have the impact that the president of the United States can have."
While imprisoned, the pregnant Ibrahim gave birth to her second child, a daughter named Maya. Reportedly the delivery involved her being in leg-irons with her 20-month old Martin in attendance.
"For every one of us who is a parent, I would ask you to think to imagine what it would be like to give birth to a child in a prison with your legs in leg irons," said Cruz to CP. "Because for Meriam Ibrahim she doesn't have to imagine what that's like; baby Maya came into this world in a Sudanese prison with her brother Martin next to her."
In May, Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging by a Sudanese court on the charge of apostasy and adultery. She was accused of converting from Islam to Christianity and marrying a Christian man.
Ibrahim argued that she was raised Christian by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother and therefore never renounced Islam. She also argued that she is innocent of adultery because she was Christian before she met her American husband.
In front of the White House, demonstrators held signs with statements that read "Stop genocide in Sudan," "U.S. Citizenship for Meriam," "Sign the Petition to #savemeriam," and "#rescuemeriam."
Some statements were given by Congressman Franks and Senator Cruz, as well as Faith McDonnell, an organizer of the demonstration.
McDonnell, who is also director of the Religious Liberty Program & Church Alliance for a New Sudan at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told CP about the reasons for the rally.
"We're here to demonstrate against the imprisonment and pending death sentence of Meriam Ibrahim in a Sudanese prison, a Christian who has been sentenced to death for her faith," said McDonnell.
"[We're here for] Sudan's human rights in general and to ask President Obama to really to take an interest in this … and get behind the efforts of Congress to give her US citizenship immediately."
Organizations sponsoring the rally included the IRD, the Center for Inquiry, Coptic Solidarity, Jewish World Watch, Nubia Project, Open Doors, Sudan Advocacy Action Forum, Traditional Values Coalition, Voices for Sudan, and the World Maronite Organization.
McDonnell told CP that there were a total of 46 organizations co-sponsoring, which she believed was in large part because the Ibrahim episode in particular "caught people's attention."
"It's one individual young woman and her babies," said McDonnell, who along with the other demonstrators led chants of "Release Meriam Now!" during the rally.
"It's just such an appalling situation and it helps people to understand that really this is symbolic of everything that's going on in Sudan. The human rights violations by the Islamist regime."