Family Research Council President Tony Perkins joined thousands of Americans in urging the Obama administration to grant immediate refugee status to a Sudanese mother who is in a prison with her 20-month-old son and newborn daughter after being sentenced to 100 lashes and death on charges of apostasy and adultery but is now expected to be freed soon.
"We are encouraged by reports that Meriam and her two small children may be released from a prison that is notorious for torture and its high infant mortality rate," Perkins said in a statement Saturday, the day after reports said the Sudan government may release 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim from death row within the next "few days."
Abdullah Alzareg, an under-secretary at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, said Sudan guarantees religious freedom and vowed to protect the young mother, according to BBC.
Over 31,000 Americans have signed a WhiteHouse.gov petition in the last three days asking that the U.S. government immediately extend safe haven to Meriam and her two children who are eligible for U.S. citizenship, Perkins said. "We remain deeply concerned about Meriam's safety in Sudan, especially if she is released back into Sudanese society."
Meriam's lawyer, Mohamed Jar Elnabi, has received death threats for representing her in court.
"Earlier this week, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) that he wasn't sure he knew about her case but promised to look into the possibility of granting safe haven in the United States. Since then, he has said nothing more publicly," Perkins said.
The young mother was convicted on April 30, and was given three days to recant her Christian faith on May 11. "The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," Judge Abaas Al Khalifa finally told her on May 15 after she refused to forsake Christianity. She has been kept at the Omdurman Federal Women's Prison in North Khartoum with her son since Feb. 17.
Ibrahim's father was a Sudanese Muslim who left her when she was just 6 years old. She was raised by her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox. However, Sudan's Islamic law recognized her as a Muslim because her father was one. It also considers her relationship with her Christian husband as "illicit."
"The Obama administration should grant immediate refugee status to Meriam and her children so that they will have the option of finding safe haven in the United States," Perkins added. "Family Research Council joins thousands of Americans in demanding President Obama offer a safe haven to this suffering American family."
After the birth of their daughter earlier this week, her husband Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen originally from South Sudan, said he was not happy about the way Meriam was treated when she gave birth in the prison. "They kept a chain on her legs. She is very unhappy about that," he told The Telegraph.
The sentencing has received international condemnation.
The court ruling is distortion of Islam and Sharia, "which are often used as an excuse for restricting rights," Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission, earlier said in a statement. "Most Muslims believe the Qur'an is about justice, which is also the purpose of Sharia. The sentence does not serve this purpose."
Embassies of the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have also denounced the sentencing, urging the Sudanese government to intervene. "We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan's own 2005 Interim Constitution," they said in a statement.
"Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of 'most serious crimes' in relation to the death penalty," Amnesty International said in a statement. "It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law."
More than 650,000 people have signed an Amnesty International petition calling for her release.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has found President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's Sudanese government to be guilty of "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief."