By Tina Ramirez, Founder and Executive Director of Hardwired, Inc.
Special to ASSIST News Service
SUDAN/USA (ANS) -- Editors Note: Did you know that 20 countries still put people to death for changing their religion? Sudan is one of these countries. In 2014, one man was sent to a mental institution, one woman was forced to recant her faith and go into hiding, and one woman was sentenced to death and imprisoned - all for apostasy. Only the last one is now free. Below is an exclusive, behind the scenes look at what took place that led to her freedom.
Meriam with her baby
At only 27 years old, a young wife and mother was forced to make a decision that few of us, particularly mothers, can imagine.
Meriam Ibrahim was raised as a Christian, but because her father was Muslim, Sudanese law wouldn't recognize Meriam's faith or her marriage to a Christian man. Since she wouldn't recant her beliefs, she was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and death for apostasy.
She was imprisoned at eight and a half months pregnant along with her 17-month old son, and left alone in a dark cell to give birth shackled to a prison floor.
Every day in prison, the imams would try to convince her to recant her faith - "convert or die."
Her son would often ask, "Why are we still here?" And Meriam would tell him, "I'm not a criminal, you should be proud of your mom for standing for her faith."
After a groundswell of local and international pressure, within six weeks, the court dropped the charges and she was freed.
The Inside Story:
But what went on outside the prison walls that led to her freedom?
Meriam with her baby and husband
Around the world, journalists reported on Meriam's story. World leaders condemned the brutality of treating a woman and her children in this way. Advocates rallied international support.
Inside Sudan, a grassroots movement formed that led the greatest challenge to religious oppression Sudan has seen since the death of the first apostate, a Muslim reformer named Mohammed Mahmoud Taha, who was put to death in 1985.
When Meriam was sentenced, several young Sudanese trained by Hardwired sprang into action - mobilizing a protest at her trial, coordinating press conferences and public briefings, getting opposition leaders to make public statements, assisting her family and international supporters, and providing her legal team critical advice.
Because of your support, Hardwired (www.hardwiredglobal.org) was able to train these young leaders over the last couple of years to be prepared to respond to situations like this and to work toward stronger legal protection of religious freedom.
These leaders learned that no one is safe if anyone faces religious oppression. They attended Hardwired's intensive training course on human rights and religious freedom, and they shared what they learned with others. AND YOU MADE THIS POSSIBLE!
They were hardwired for freedom and this is why they were able to mobilize a response unlike any other in Sudan's history.
What Happens Next?
Meriam on FOX TV
As of August, Meriam, her husband, and their two children are safe in the United States. Thanks to our trainees' willingness to risk their lives for the sake of her freedom, and your support for our programs, their family is safe from oppression and free to believe as they choose.
You can learn more about Meriam's story and watch the exclusive interview coordinated with Hardwired's help here www.foxnews.com/world/2014/09/15/sudanese-christian-woman-sentenced-to-death-says-had-god-by-her-side/.
Meriam's brave lawyers and our trainees continue to challenge the apostasy law that put her in prison. These young advocates need our continued support to change the law and mobilize more public support for religious freedom.
Together, we can overturn the apostasy law in Sudan. By training leaders in one country at a time, we can change the statistics on religious oppression around the world. Consid er supporting one of our Sudan initiatives below to get started.
Continuing the Fight for Freedom in Sudan
Hardwired-trained Christian and Muslim leaders in Sudan to develop a religious freedom provision for the new constitution and taught them strategies to work together for greater freedom. They successfully argued for its adoption in the draft constitution and are teaching others. As they challenge the apostasy law in the courts and mobilize more support for religious freedom, they need your support.
We are launching a legal aid network in Sudan so that anyone facing religious oppression can find immediate, professional assistance. Lawyers and other advocates will learn about international law and the tools they need to stop religious oppression.
We are continuing to provide grassroots training through our local partners to ensure that future leaders understand the importance of defending religious freedom for everyone, and to help religious communities know ho w to respond when attacked. We have developed a manual that provides legal advice and strategies for how communities can respond.
Sign the Petition
We have launched a petition to end the apostasy laws. No one is safe until Sudan adopts a constitution that will uphold religious freedom. The laws that unjustly placed Meriam in prison and sentenced her to death remain in effect and by signing this petition, you can show your support for those challenging this oppression in the Constitutional Court. Just go to www.hardwiredglobal.org/#!end-apostasy-laws-in-sudan/czvz
Note: To listen to Dan Wooding's recent interview with Tina Ramirez, please go to www.assist-ministries.com/FrontPageRadio/FPR02.16.14TinaRamirezMono.mp3