A Sudanese appeals court has just overturned a death sentence against Meriam Ibrahim, a woman condemned to death for apostasy (and who gave birth to her second child while imprisoned). Even though she was raised a Christian, she had a Muslim father, and a lower court declared her an apostate from Islam. Meriam’s reprieve is a bit of good news in these dark times, but for every Meriam who is spared there are many, many people around the world who continue to live under unofficial death sentences.This weekend the New York Times profiled an Afghan convert to Christianity identified only as Josef. When he was a teenager, his siblings emigrated to Germany, but Josef stayed behind to care for his parents. In 2009 he witnessed a shooting of an eight-year-old boy and decided he finally wanted to get away from the violence and horror wracking his country. He was smuggled into the West, stopping in Greece, Italy, and eventually Germany, where he became a Christian and was granted asylum—temporarily:
The reprieve was short-lived; the German authorities rearrested him and deported him to Italy because he had not sought asylum in the European Union country where he was first processed, as required. Without family or friends in Italy, he sought aid from churches and charities that offered him food but no shelter.
Homeless, broke, depressed and in deteriorating health, Josef gave up and went to live with his wife and her family in northern Pakistan.
Once back in Pakistan, his wife’s family found files indicating his conversion and beat him nearly to death. He escaped back into Afghanistan, but is now being chased by his uncles and his brother-in-law, who wants him put to death for becoming an apostate from Islam.For millions of people, Josef’s story is all too familiar, with its smugglers, desperate asylum bids, detention centers, bureaucratic runarounds, grinding poverty, and the constant threat of violence. International organizations can, and should, congratulate themselves on helping to save Meriam, but as Josef’s story reminds us, there’s a lot of work still to do.