Woman faces death sentence over faith

Last updated 06:25 16/05/2014

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A Muslim-by-birth Sudanese woman who married a Christian man has been sentenced to death after she refused to recant her Christian faith, her lawyer says.

Meriam Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but her mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia, was convicted of "apostasy" - literally the rejection of a religion - on Sunday (local time) and given four days to repent and escape death, lawyer Al-Shareef Ali al-Shareef Mohammed said.

The 26 year old, who is eight months pregnant, was sentenced after that grace period expired, Mohammed said.

The sentence drew immediate condemnation from Amnesty International, which called it "abhorrent." Mohammed called the conviction rushed and legally flawed since the judge refused to hear key defence witnesses, as well as ignored constitutional provisions on freedom of worship and equality among citizens.

"The fact that a woman could be sentenced to death for her religious choice, and to flogging for being married to a man of an allegedly different religion, is abhorrent and should never be even considered," Amnesty said in a statement, quoting its Sudan researcher, Manar Idriss.

"It is flagrant breach of international human rights law," she said.

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.

Sudan introduced Islamic Shariah 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.

Sudanese President Omar Bashir, who seized power in a 1989 military coup, is an Islamist who says his country will implement Islam more strictly now that the non-Muslim south is gone.

There have been a number of cases over the years of Sudanese convicted of apostasy, but they all escaped the gallows by recanting their faith. Ibrahim is the first to be sentenced to death for apostasy, Mohammed and Idriss say.

Mohammed said he intends to appeal Ibrahim's conviction.

"The judge has exceeded his mandate when he ruled that Meriam's marriage was void because her husband was out of her faith," Mohammed told The Associated Press. "He was thinking more of Islamic Shariah laws than of the country's laws and its constitution."

He said Ibrahim's Muslim father left her mother when she was a child and her mother raised her as a Christian.

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The court in the capital, Khartoum, also ordered that Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for committing "zena" - an Arabic word for illegitimate sex - for having sexual relations with her husband, Daniel Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan who has US citizenship, according to the lawyer and judicial officials who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Ibrahim's case first came to the attention of authorities in August, when members of her father's family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man.

They claimed that her birth name was "Afdal" and that she changed it to Meriam. Mohammed said the document produced by relatives to show she was given a Muslim name at birth was a fake. Ibrahim refused to answer Judge Abbas Khalifa when he called her "Afdal" during Thursday's hearing. Meriam is a common name for Muslims and Christians alike.

"I was never a Muslim. I was raised a Christian from the start," she said.

Authorities last year charged her with "zena" and she was put on trial, but she remained free. She was first detained in a Khartoum jail in February and charged with apostasy after she declared in court that Christianity was the only religion she knew.

Ibrahim and Wani married in 2011 and have a son, 18-month-old Martin, who is with her in jail. The couple runs a farm south of Khartoum.

- AP

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