(Morning Star News) – A judge in Sudan confirmed the death sentence for “apostasy” (leaving Islam) for a pregnant Christian woman after she refused to recant, sources said.
After her conviction on April 30, Judge Abaas Al Khalifa had given Meriam Yahia Ibrahim 15 days to recant or be executed, with the ultimatum repeated at her hearing on Sunday (May 11). He also confirmed the sentence of 100 lashes for having sex with her husband, considered illicit in Islam because he is a Christian.
“The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead,” Al Khalifa told Ibrahim, who also has a 20-month-old son, after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her.
As other Sudanese convicted of leaving Islam have recanted their new faiths in order to avoid execution, the 27-year-old Ibrahim is the first person to be sentenced to death under Sudan’s apostasy law, according to Amnesty International.
Before the court appearance, a Muslim scholar went to Ibrahim – as has happened repeatedly since her incarceration without trial in February – and spent nearly 40 minutes trying to force her to recant, sources said. She told him what she told the judge.
“I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim,” she told Al Khalifa in court.
Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother raised her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts that she was Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
“She is due to give birth any minute,” a lawyer at the Justice Center Sudan (JCS), which is handling her case, told Morning Star News. “They will transfer her to different department to wait for her sentence. They will flog her 100 lashes as soon as she recovers from childbirth.”
He added, however, that attorneys will file an appeal of the sentence on Sunday (May 18), which would put off execution of the sentence, including the flogging, until there is a ruling.
“Meriam is very encouraged by the international support she is receiving from the international community,” the attorney said. “She hopes that people stand with her and her family until she gets her freedom.”
Her husband, a south Sudanese national who also has U.S. citizenship named Daniel Wani, said she has not received adequate medical care, and he fears that will continue as they await the birth of their second child.
“She might deliver her baby any time from now up to June 1,” Wani told Morning Star News. “She is weak, but she is not afraid of death.”
The couple faces termination of their marriage as it has been ruled illegal, though charges of proselytization and “adultery” against Wani have been dropped. Unless her case is dismissed on religious rights grounds and their marriage restored, their children will become wards of the state to be raised as Muslims.
Last year someone who said he was a relative of Ibrahim opened a case against them in Halat Kuku Court of Khartoum North for alleged “adultery” under article 146 of the Sudan Criminal Code because of her marriage to a Christian, rights workers said. Wani was accused of proselytizing a Muslim, and eventually authorities added the apostasy charge to Ibrahim.
Sudan’s notorious Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif in Khartoum North initially charged Ibrahim with apostasy and “adultery” (relations with her husband) on March 4. No one has been executed for apostasy in Sudan since the Sudan Criminal Code of 1991 made it punishable by the death penalty.
“Mrs. Ibrahim’s sentence is inhumane and unwarranted,” said Kiri Kankhwende, press officer for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which has advocated for her along with other international organizations since Morning Star News revealed the case. “CSW calls for it to be annulled and for the immediate release of Mrs. Ibrahim and her son, who is being held in violation of article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
As a Sudanese citizen, Kankhwende said, Ibrahim is entitled to freedom of religion of belief under the Sudanese constitution.
“Consequently, this sentence amounts to a violation of the Sudanese Constitution and of international conventions to which Sudan is party, including the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,” she said.
Western embassies in Khartoum reportedly condemned the sentence, as did London-based Amnesty International.
“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,” Amnesty said in a statement. “Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all.”
The organization also called for her immediate and unconditional release.
Since the secession of South Sudan in 2011, President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to make Sudan more strictly Islamic.
In addition to Muslim crowds calling for the court to punish Ibrahim with banners such as one that read, “She must die because has changed her religion,” another group protested on her behalf. “Do not take life of Meriam,” one banner read.
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