Sen. Cruz Joins Rebecca Sharibu in Renewing Calls for Boko Haram to Release Leah Sharibu
Leads bipartisan, bicameral letter to Nigerian President urging the secure release of Leah Sharibu
WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this week renewed calls for the release of Leah Sharibu, who was abducted in 2018 by the Islamic terrorist organization Boko Haram and remains in captivity for refusing to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam. Joined by Leah's mother, Rebecca Sharibu and Tony Perkins, Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Sen. Cruz said at an event hosted by the International Committee on Nigeria:
"In the face of evil Leah has demonstrated, and is demonstrating tremendous courage. Leah was 15 when she was kidnapped. So far, she has spent two birthdays in captivity. Part of Boko Haram's barbaric and inhumane behavior includes, not just kidnapping and murdering innocent people, but specifically, exploiting children. They target children deliberately. According to UNICEF, Boko Haram has kidnapped over 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013...And then in 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped the 104 girls from Dapchi, including Leah. [Boko Haram] targeting children, targeting little girls and little boys to kidnap, torture, and murder them, is the very face of evil. It is the personification of evil."
Sen. Cruz has been a staunch supporter of political dissidents and persecuted religious minorities worldwide, and this week led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Nigerian President Buhari urging the Buhari administration to work towards securing Leah's release. Earlier this year, Sen. Cruz urged the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to formally designate Leah Sharibu a Religious Prisoner of Conscience. This designation was made as one of Tony Perkins first acts since becoming Chair of the Commission in June 2019.
Watch Sen. Cruz's full remarks here. Full transcript of his remarks are below:
"Good afternoon. We are here today to speak out for truth. Speak out for justice. Speak out for humanity. We are here today to speak out for Leah. We are here today to focus the eyes, and attention of the world on the gross human rights violations that are unfolding in front of us.
"I want to thank the International Committee on Nigeria and Tony Perkins for your leadership and for the work that you are doing, shining the light. I want to especially recognize Rebecca Sharibu who is here today pleading for the release of her daughter Leah. Leah was kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist organization known as ‘Boko Haram' on February 19th 2018 and she's been held captive ever since. She was kidnapped along with 100 other girls from their school in Dapchi, Northeast Nigeria. Fortunately, all but one of the kidnapped girls have since been freed. All but Leah. Who was 15 years old at the time of the kidnapping.
"Leah is a Christian. A Christian who refuses to renounce her faith and convert to Islam. That's why she is still being held hostage by Boko Haram. Leah has said that she would rather live free in captivity, than live in freedom as a captive. Those are remarkable, courageous words. For a 16-year-old girl, facing a threat of her very life, they are extraordinary words of strength, and maturity, and hope. For the last 612 days, Leah has been living in hellish captivity. I ask everyone here to imagine what Leah is facing right now. As a parent of daughters, I can only imagine the agony Leah's family endures.
"My wife, Heidi, lived in Nigeria as a little girl. And, in Kenya when her parents were missionaries in both countries. This persecution is wrong and it needs to end. And, tragically, Leah is not the only Christian who is being persecuted or who has died for her faith. Recent studies by domestic international organizations have found that Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world. Christians suffer at the hand of both state and non-state actors. Their persecutors range from Islamists to Communists and from religious extremists to extremist atheists. According to a report by Open Doors USA, one in nine Christians worldwide experiences a high level of persecution. And quote: ‘Islamic oppression fuels Christian persecution in eight of the top ten countries where Christians experience severe persecution.'
"Certain parts of the world are worse than others, of course, and Nigeria is a place today where Christians are in grave danger. Christians in Nigeria are often targeted because of their faith. The State Department's 2018 International Religious Freedom report details that Boko Haram has targeted 900 churches since their insurgency began. 900 churches. Hostility towards Christians in Nigeria isn't just limited to Boko Haram. The State Department also reports instances of Christian worshipers and Priests being slaughtered. Sometimes during church services. This is the world Leah is living in.
"In the face of evil Leah has demonstrated, and is demonstrating tremendous courage. Leah was 15 when she was kidnapped. So far, she has spent two birthdays in captivity. Part of Boko Haram's barbaric and inhumane behavior includes, not just kidnapping and murdering innocent people, but specifically, exploiting children. They target children deliberately.
"According to UNICEF, Boko Haram has kidnapped over 1,000 children in Nigeria since 2013. While many of them are used as suicide bombers, or soldiers, others are girls who have been kidnapped while at school. In 2014, there was the infamous kidnapping of 276 Chibok school girls from Borno State, Nigeria. 112 of those girls are still missing. And then in 2018, Boko Haram kidnapped the 104 girls from Dapchi, including Leah. Targeting children, targeting little girls and little boys to kidnap, torture, and murder them, is the very face of evil. It is the personification of evil.
"In the Senate, I've worked hard to stop the use of human shields by terrorists like Boko Haram. Last year, I was able to secure the passage of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that requires a formal report of the use of human shields by terrorist groups like Boko Haram. To shine a light of sunlight on the evil being perpetrated in our midst. This report will include lessons that we've learned in addressing the use of human shields and a specific plan of action incorporating those lessons so that we can have reliable tools to target Boko Haram and other terrorists who use human shields while also saving lives.
"But, amidst this darkness, I want to help share a ray of hope. Leah's captivity reminds me, reminds many of us, of other Christians around the world who have been kidnapped, imprisoned, tortured, and threatened with death but, who ultimately walk free. [...]
"Mariam Ibrahim, a mother who was imprisoned in Sudan for being a Christian. Like Leah, Mariam was given a choice: renounce your faith, or face death. And, like Leah, Mariam Ibrahim demonstrated extraordinary courage. When I first had the opportunity to meet Mariam Ibrahim after she had been released it struck me how relatively young she was. And I remember asking her, after she's given birth to her second child, Maya, while in leg irons, after she's been threatened with 100 lashes, and hanging by the neck until death. I remember asking her, ‘How in the dark of that prison cell, how did you not lose faith? How did you not lose hope?' And she simply responded to me with a very quiet answer. ‘Jesus was with me.' I can't imagine the strength of Mariam Ibrahim.
"I can't imagine Leah's strength. There's also Asia Bibi, a Christian who was imprisoned and sentenced to death in Pakistan for blasphemy. Asia spent years on death row. Her life hanging in the balance. And then there's Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh. Two Iranian women who converted to Christianity and spread the gospel. Covertly handing out New Testaments to over 20,000 Iranians. The Iranian regime arrested, imprisoned, tortured and sentenced them both to death by hanging for the Christian faith. Christians across the world like this. Lifted. These women lifted these prisoners in conscience up in prayer. And, brought attention to their persecution. And remarkably, by God's grace, these courageous, Christian women, are free today.
"So, there is hope. There is hope and there is power. A few voices, like a candle in the dark of a cave, can light the very darkest recesses. Our voices together, are powerful.
"That's why in February, I wrote a letter to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, urging the commission to designate Leah as a prisoner of conscience. Which would send a clear message that we will not allow any child victims of terror to be forgotten as we continue to shine a light on the rampant persecution being committed by Boko Haram.
"This week I was proud to help lead a bipartisan letter of Republicans and Democrats, Senators and House Members, standing together in a plea to Nigeria's President urging him to use the fullest extent of his power to secure Leah's safe release. The United States needs to convey a moral clarity on these issues and to demand the government of Nigeria to protect religious freedom and to protect basic human rights. It's time. It's long past time for Leah to be freed. And for Boko Haram to be put on its heels and dismantled forever.
"God is present in the darkest corners. In my family, we too have experienced persecution. My father was imprisoned and tortured in Cuba as a teenager. My aunt, my Tia Sonia, was about Leah's age when she was thrown in prison and tortured in Cuba. Today both my father and my Tia Sonia are free and escaped oppression and are living free here in America.
"Some time back, I had the opportunity to visit with Natan Sharansky, the famed Soviet dissident. He and I sat down in Jerusalem. Talked about his time-years-in the Soviet gulag. And what Natan told me, is that in those cells, that they would pass from cell to cell, notes: ‘Did you hear what President Reagan said? Evil Empire. Marxism, Leninism will end up on the ash heap of history. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.' that those words, in a dark and lonely prison cell, pierced through the prison walls and ultimately helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
"Our voices here today, resonate and resonate loudly. And those who are committing evil, who are committing atrocities, those barbaric animals who target little girls, should be viewed rightly across the globe as contemptible predators. I want to give everyone here a final word of encouragement. Truth is stronger than lies. Light is stronger than darkness. Our voices here together are in support of truth and light.
"So, I want to commend every voice here to be heard from the mountain tops. To be heard across the nation and across the globe. And I look forward to the day, hopefully very, very soon, where we can welcome Leah as free, liberated, and a powerful, powerful testimony for the love of Jesus Christ. God bless you."