St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral near the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We must stand up for Meriam Ibrahim and other persecuted Christians

The government must speak out firmly against her barbaric sentence and call on the Sudanese government to revoke it.

The plight of Meriam Ibrahim has outraged and shocked people across the world. Sentenced to death by hanging in Sudan simply for being a Christian, 27-year-old Meriam is a prisoner of conscience who has been specifically persecuted because of her faith.

Amnesty International has rightly described her sentence as "appalling and abhorrent" and their online petition calling for her release has already reached 154,000 signatures. Not only is her sentence abhorrent, but she has also been forced to suffer cruelty at the hands of the Sudanese authorities during her detention in jail.

Her current conditions in Omdurman prison near Khartoum are desperate. She is reported to have spent the past five months chained to the floor of her cell. Reports that she was shackled whilst giving birth this week show that her treatment, and the treatment of her young innocent children, has been both inhuman and cruel. Human Rights Watch claims the prison is "beset with overcrowding' and suffers from 'poor sanitation, disease and the deaths of many children living with their mothers."

Merian's plight is just one of a growing number of cases around the world of Christians being persecuted for their faith. She was raised as a Christian by her mother, and refuses to renounce her religion despite the offer from the Sudanese courts to withdraw her sentence if she does. It is vital that at these moments - when the world's attention is focused on such victims of persecution - politicians are not afraid to speak up and speak out against such attacks on innocent people because of their religious beliefs.

The Labour Party has asked British ministers to apply pressure to the Sudanese government to try and ensure her release, and it is vital that the UK government continue to speak out firmly against her barbaric sentence and to call on the Sudanese government to revoke it. The British government will continue have our full support in their efforts resolve this matter, and in speaking out more vocally on the issue of Christian persecution.

Indeed, this year the UK assumed its place on the UN Human Rights Council, and as part of that body the UK government now has a unique and timely opportunity to use this platform to speak up for religious freedom as a fundamental human right and speak out against the persecution of Christians worldwide.

Merian's case is a reminder of how significant a struggle this is, and just how urgent a task.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.