In what Amnesty International's Sudan Researcher called "abhorrent" and "appalling," a pregnant Christian woman has been sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for marrying a Christian.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was born to a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Even though the father deserted the family when she was six years old and she was raised as Christian, she is considered a Muslim by sharia law.
According to sharia, it is forbidden for a Muslim to convert from Islam to another religion. Such conversions are considered a crime punishable by death. Since her father was a Muslim, she is regarded as having left Islam. The judge in the case gave Meriam a choice to "revert" to Islam or die. Meriam refused to recant her Christian faith.
Since Muslim women are forbidden to marry non-Muslim men, the court also convicted her of having committed "zena" (illegitimate sex), punishable by 100 lashes.
In a statement to AFP, Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan's Information Minister said "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."
During the trial, the judge continually used Meriam's "Muslim name," the name of her absentee father Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah. Half an hour before the hearing, an Islamic cleric spent time with her urging her to repent and accept Islam. She refused. The judge gave her three days to reconsider. She refused again.
After the sentence was passed, Mariam told the judge, "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy."
Meriam is a medical doctor and married to a Sudanese man who is also an American citizen. Their 20-month old son, Martin, was sent to prison with her in February. Meriam is currently close to nine months pregnant.
Soon after they were married in December, 2011, Meriam's husband appled for a visa to bring his wife with him to the United States. To date, the couple has not received the visa.
The death sentence will be carried out after she gives birth and the child reaches two. The lashes will be given once she recovers from the birth. The couple married in 2011.
Maraim's lawyers plan to appeal the decision, which will delay the execution of the sentences.
Both human rights activists and Islamists protested outside the court. Activists carried signs calling for freedom of religion, while Islamist signs proclaimed "God is Greatest."
Amnesty International, based in London, said about Meriam's conviction that "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 British Foreign Office summoned the Nigerian charges d'affairs in London to be told that the UK considers the sentence "barbaric". The Nigerian representative was told to urge his government to uphoad international agreements on freedom of belief.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power tweeted that she is deeply disturbed about "Sudan's outrageous death sentence" and wrote that Sudan must respect the freedom of religion:
Deeply disturbed by Gov't of #Sudan's outrageous death sentence for Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag. Must respect right to freedom of religion.
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) May 15, 2014
On Tuesday, the embassies of the United States, Canada, the UK and the Netherlands issued a joint statement. In it, they urged Sudan to respect religious freedom, and expressed their "deep concern" about this case.