Death sentence for refusing to renounce Christianity

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa —A pregnant Sudanese woman who refused to renounce her Christianity was sentenced to death by hanging Thursday in a Khartoum court, provoking outrage from human rights groups.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who has a young son and is married to a Christian from South Sudan, violated Islamic sharia law, the court said. She insists she was raised Christian, not Muslim.

The court also ordered Ibrahim to be flogged for having sexual relations with her husband, since her marriage is not recognized by officials.

Ibrahim refused a court order Sunday giving her several days to renounce her Christian faith, which resulted in the sentencing Thursday.

Amnesty International issued a statement describing the sentence as abhorrent and called for Ibrahim’s release.

“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,” said Manar Idriss, Amnesty International’s Sudan researcher.

“Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all. It is flagrant breach of international human rights law,” Idriss said in the statement. “The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, which includes the freedom to hold beliefs, is far-reaching and profound; it encompasses freedom of thought on all matters, personal conviction and the commitment to religion or belief.”

Ibrahim was charged after being reported to authorities last year by a member of her family because of her marriage to a Christian, according to her supporters. In February, the court added a charge of apostasy based on her 2012 marriage in a Christian church and the fact that she insisted in court that she was Christian.

Her mother, an Orthodox Ethiopian Christian, married a Sudanese Muslim who was never at home as Ibrahim grew up, according to the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, a network of 80 civil society women’s organizations based in Khartoum.

Ibrahim, currently jailed with her son, will be allowed to give birth and raise her second child until the age of 2 years but then faces execution. Sudanese authorities refuse to allow Ibrahim’s son to reside with her husband because the husband is Christian.

SIHA has called for an urgent global campaign by activists to pressure Sudanese authorities over Ibrahim’s death sentence. Two witnesses testified in court that they had seen Ibrahim pray in a Christian church in the past, the group said.

“Sudan’s legal system has often displayed a pattern of selective enforcement of the law and has frequently singled out women, ethnic minorities, and activists with punishments often disproportionate to alleged crimes committed,” a SIHA statement said. “The fact that Meriam stands to lose her life over specious charges makes this case of utmost urgency and demands a unified advocacy and outreach efforts by human rights defenders across the globe.”

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