April 3, 2021 (WASHINGTON) – The Sudanese woman who escaped death row in her home country for the charge of apostasy has filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court last week against the government of Sudan seeking compensatory punitive damages for her ordeal.
- In this photo provided by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Sudan’s Meriam Ibrahim, holding her daughter Maya in her arms, is shown meeting Pope Francis in Rome on 24 July 2014
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was sentenced to death by hanging in May 2014 after being convicted in Sudanese courts for allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity.
According to Islamic Sharia law that was in place at the time apostasy is punishable by death. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for being in an unrecognized marital union with a non-Muslim husband.
However, Ishag argued before Sudanese judges that she was raised by her Ethiopian Orthodox mother after her Muslim dad abandoned the family and therefore was never a Muslim.
An appeal court subsequently overturned the verdict and the sentence amid international outcry.
She managed to leave the country afterwards along with her US citizen spouse and two kids and in transit stopped in Italy where she held a meeting with the Pope.
In her complaint Ishag said the court has jurisdiction over the case because Sudan was designated as a state sponsor of terrorism and thus can be sued under Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).
Sudan’s terrorism designation was formally rescinded effective last December and also had its sovereign immunity reinstated by US Congress which blocks any further terrorism-related claims in US courts against Khartoum with the exception of 9/11 cases.
But Ishag asserts that FSIA remains relevant because her claim was filed within a six months of when Sudan was last on the terrorism list.
“This suit seeks money damages against Sudan and its agencies and instrumentalities for injury and harm caused to the Plaintiffs, and each of them, by Sudan’s acts of terrorism, torture, and hostage taking,” the filing reads.
“These acts of terrorism, torture, and hostage taking were perpetrated by officials, members, agents and instrumentalities of Sudan while acting within the scope of their official capacities”.
Ishag added her son and daughter as parties to this case but not her husband whom she said was in the process of getting a divorce from him.
She recounted the events that led to her arrest and trial and highlighted what she described as emotional and physical abuse while in detention including poor prison conditions, solitary confinement, non-sanitary cells as well as threats and beatings from prison guards.
“In prison, the guards would shackle Ms. Ishag, sometimes for up to three days at a time. The shackles were heavy and painful. Mn. W. was with Ms. Ishag the entire time. Because of the shackles, Ms. Ishag was unable to take care of her son properly. Mn.W. [son] began to walk while he and Ms. Ishag were in prison. The shackles prevented Ms. Ishag from caring for him, playing with him, or from doing any of the normal activities a parent would do with a child”.
“The prison guards continuously threatened and abused Ms. Ishag while she was in prison. Even while pregnant, she was beaten with sticks, kicked, and spat upon. The guards did not beat Mn. W., but he was present during and witnessed Ms. Ishag’s beatings, and was scared tremendously”.
Ishag also claimed that she sent to solitary confinement three times and was separated from her son during these times.
She went on to say that her son’s health “suffered because of the inhumane environment in which he and his mother were kept and the fact that he was deprived of the care normally provided by a mother to a child”.
“Ms. Ishag went into labor three weeks prematurely. When she requested help, the guards did not believe her. The guards called the prison midwife, who confirmed that Ms. Ishag was in labor. During her labor, the prison was without electricity. The guards forced Ms. Ishag to give birth while shackled to the floor. Ma. W [daughter] was born on May 27, 2014”.
After she won the appeal against her conviction Ishag said she was unable to return home “because her home was also surrounded by extremists”.
“She sought shelter first at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, and then at the U.S. Embassy. Ms. Ishag, Mn. W., and Ma. W. were reunited with Mr. Wani at the U.S. Embassy….Because of the threats from violent extremists, Ms. Ishag and her family were forced to flee Sudan, leaving behind their careers, property, and personal belongings”.
The complaint asks the court to make a finding of “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” by Sudan against her and her two children and to order Khartoum to pay solatium and punitive damages as well as any further relief deemed appropriate.
“The damages for each of the plaintiffs are permanent and will continue into the future,” the filing reads.
A summons request was to the Sudanese ministry of external affairs via the Sudanese embassy in Malaysia was made. It is not clear why it was not addressed to the embassy in Washington.