Source: The Telegraph
By Rob Crilly, who is Pakistan correspondent of The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Telegraph. Before that he spent five years writing about Africa for The Times, The Irish Times, The Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Christian Science Monitor from his base in Nairobi.
My taxi stopped on one of Khartoum’s busy main roads, close to the airport. We were stuck behind a cattle truck. Crammed into its trailer were not cows on their way to market, however, but a herd of very frightened women. The driver hopped down on to the pavement, grabbed a startled female pedestrian and roughly hauled her aboard.
My fixer, Al Siir, explained what was happening: none of the women was wearing a headscarf. Under Sudan’s Islamic law they would be rounded up, whipped and then released. Never mind that most were Christians from Ethiopia or what would soon become South Sudan. Never mind that they should have been exempt from Sharia. They all faced punishment for going uncovered.
I had forgotten about that old episode until the news unfolded of Meriam Ibrahim’s miserable fate. Sentenced to death supposedly for giving up Islam and converting to Christianity, she gave birth to a baby daughter in prison while wearing shackles. Just like those women in the truck, the charge was a sham. She had never lived as a Muslim so should not have been accused of apostasy. But she may have got lucky. Unlike thousands of prisoners in Sudan, her case made international headlines. She was soon made a poster girl for the world’s persecuted Christians, quickly begetting a hashtag – #SaveMeriam – the sign of a very modern protest.
And now, it seems, Khartoum has listened. President Omar al-Bashir, himself wanted for war crimes, has taken a close interest in the case. The process has now begun for her release, though it may take a long time. It will not be easy in a country where a growing religious Right will push back against perceptions of Western interference.