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Hashtag diplomacy is not enough to save Meriam Ibrahim

Supporter of Meriam Ibrahim, including Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., rally outside the White House. Photo by Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette

Hashtag diplomacy is not enough to save Meriam Ibrahim

WASHINGTON—Nearly 50 protestors gathered in front of the White House Thursday to raise awareness of a woman threatened with execution if she doesn’t give up her Christian faith for Islam.

Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Christian and mother imprisoned in Sudan, faces 100 lashes for marrying a Christian and the death penalty for refusing to recant her faith. Representatives of more than 40 religious freedom and human rights groups came to Washington to urge President Barack Obama to protect her.

Many held signs, some emblazoned with the hashtag “#SaveMeriam” and others calling for her freedom: “Release Meriam and her babies … I’ll take her lashes.” Others walked with their hands bound in red paper chains to symbolize her captivity.

“You’re here to speak up,” protest organizer Dominic Sputo told the crowd. “Women aren’t cattle. They’re not to be whipped. They have rights.”

Ibrahim married Daniel Wani, a naturalized U.S. citizen, in December 2011. Though Ibrahim grew up a Christian—her Muslim father abandoned the family when she was 6—authorities consider her a Muslim. As such, she can’t marry a Christian or adopt Christianity. A half-brother filed a lawsuit against Ibrahim while she was in Sudan, leading authorities to accuse her of apostasy and sentence her on May 15.

If Ibrahim is not freed, she will be executed in two years, after weaning her newborn daughter, Maya. Ibrahim gave birth to Maya while chained to her bed in an unsanitary jail in Khartoum, Sudan. Her 21-month-old son, Martin, is also in prison with her. Both children are American citizens through their father, although the U.S. State Department has refused to publicly recognize their citizenship.

At the protest, representatives from Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy asked Obama and lawmakers to bring Ibrahim to America. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., appeared at the event as well.

“It is hard for me to have great respect toward this White House for its callous disregard of fellow human beings who suffer from religious persecution,” Franks told me.

Though British leaders and the State Department have disparaged Sudan’s actions, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have not addressed the issue publicly.

Franks, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., introduced legislation May 28 calling for Congress to grant Ibrahim political asylum and bring her to America. The resolution has nearly 50 co-sponsors. A similar measure insisting on Ibrahim’s “immediate and unconditional release” unanimously passed the Senate on June 3 in a rare case of bipartisanship.

Sputo, the man behind the rally, is a medical software businessman who uses his wealth to help persecuted Christians through the nonprofit organization Mute No More. He hopes today’s protest will encourage Obama to “do the right thing.”

Sputo decided to organize the protest one week ago after some friends at Lakeshore Bible Church in Lutz, Fla., discussed what they could do for Ibrahim. Sputo also launched a website to help other nonprofit organizations support her cause and send letters to lawmakers.

“You’re here to do the right thing,” he told protestors at Thursday’s rally in front of the White House.

About halfway through the rally, a man with an orange-tipped beard yelled the Muslim call to prayer in front of the White House. His companion carried a sign with a Quran verse condemning Christians and Jews to hell. The men weren’t counter protestors—they come regularly—but their presence exemplified the conflict facing Ibrahim right now.

Long after the two Muslims left, Ibrahim’s supporters remained. After they marched and chanted in front of the White House, Concerned Women for America President Penny Nance led them in prayer.

“Hashtag diplomacy is not enough,” she said, calling for action beyond 140-character messages on Twitter.

Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette Rikki is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD contributor.


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