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Sudanese woman sentenced to death for ‘apostasy’

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death and 100 lashes after converting to Christianity

Published: Updated:

A Sudanese woman doctor who married a Christian man was sentenced to death on Thursday for converting to Christianity, despite Western appeals calling to respect freedom of religion.

According to the Sudanese officials, 26-year-old Meriam Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim, was convicted on Sunday and given four days to repent and escape death. She was sentenced after that grace period expired, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

“We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death," Judge Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by a Muslim name, Adraf al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.

 A general view taken on May 15, 2014 shows St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral near the Sudanese capital Khartoum.  (AFP)
A general view taken on May 15, 2014 shows St. Matthew's Catholic Cathedral near the Sudanese capital Khartoum. (AFP)

The death ruling for Ibrahim, who is reportedly pregnant, drew condemnation from Western embassies in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, and international rights groups, including Amnesty International.

“The Embassies of the United States of American, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands in Khartoum express their deep concern over the apostasy ruling handed down on Sunday in the trial of Meriam Yahia Ibhrahim Ishag,” said a statement posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum.

“We call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one’s right to change one’s faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan’s own 2005 Interim Constitution,” the statement added.

“We further urge Sudanese legal authorities to approach Ms Meriam’s case with justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people. We are also concerned over the brutal sentence that could be faced with respect to the finding of adultery,” it said.

The court in Khartoum also ordered Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for committing "zena" - an Arabic word for illegitimate sex - for having sexual relations with a non-Muslim man.

The couple married in 2011 and have a child, born 18 months ago. Under Sudanese law, Ibrahim's marriage to a non-Muslim is regarded as void, the Associated Press reported.

Ibrahim can appeal her death sentence as well as the 100 lashes.

As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. By law, children must follow their father's religion.

Amnesty International said Ibrahim's conviction and death sentence were "truly abhorrent."

"The fact that a woman has been sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion is appalling and abhorrent," the London-based rights group said in a statement. "Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all."

The group also called for Ibrahim's immediate and unconditional release.

Sudan introduced Islamic Sharia laws in the early 1980s, a move that contributed to the resumption of an insurgency in the mostly animist and Christian south of Sudan. An earlier round of civil war lasted 17 years and ended in 1972. The south seceded in 2011 to become the world's newest nation, South Sudan.

Sudan's current ruler, Omar Bashir, is an Islamist who seized power in a 1989 coup.

[With AP]

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