A pregnant, married Sudanese Christian has been sentenced to death for refusingto embrace Islam, her father's religion, and marrying a Christian man, her lawyer said Thursday.
A Khartoum court convicted Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag, 27, of apostasy this week for allegedly "denouncing" Islam and sentenced her to be hanged to death. The court considers Ishag to be Muslim because her father was Muslim and thus prohibited from embracing another religion. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery – which under Sudan’s interpretation of sharia law includes interfaith marriages.
"We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged," Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told the woman, AFP reports. Ishag was convicted last Sunday but given until Thursday to recant.
According to local media reports, Ishag, who is eight months pregnant, will be executed after she has given birth, in two years.
Earlier in the hearing, an Islamic religious leader spoke with her in the caged dock for about 30 minutes. Then she calmly told the judge: "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy."
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Ishag was raised as a Christian in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, her mother's religion, since her Muslim father was absent. She was first arrested in 2013 under adultery charges after a family member reported her for marrying a Christian national of South Sudan. The court added the charge of apostasy in February 2014 when Ishag asserted that she was a Christian and not a Muslim, according to Amnesty International.
While Sudan has an Islamist government, extreme sharia law punishments have been rare.
About 50 locals protested the verdict. An estimated 100 people, including Western embassy representatives, were in court to hear the sentence.
On Tuesday, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands embassies issued a joint statement expressing concern over the impending case.
"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," the statement said.
The embassies urged Sudanese legal authorities "to approach Ms. Mariam's case with justice and compassion that is in keeping with the values of the Sudanese people."
Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan's information minister, defended the sentence. "It's not only Sudan. In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion," he told AFP.
According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group working for religious freedom, Ishag’s case is among "a series of repressive acts" in Sudan against religious minorities. The group cites deportations, the confiscation and destruction of church property and other actions against Christians that have increased since December 2012.
Osman denies the claims. "We are living together for centuries," he said.