Sudan sentences pregnant Christian to death for apostasy

A pregnant woman faces the death penalty in Sudan for apostasy, after police discovered that she had been raised as a Christian despite the family’s identification as Muslim. Meriam Yehya Ibrahim also faces a sentence of flogging for marrying outside her religion, even though her husband is also Christian. The heart of both cases is the law forbidding the conversion of any Muslim to any other faith:

A Sudanese court has sentenced a Christian woman to death for renouncing Islam, her lawyer said Thursday.

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was convicted by a Khartoum court this week of apostasy, or the renunciation of faith.

The court considers her to be Muslim.

She also was convicted of adultery.

Ibrahim’s lawyer Haram Othman told CNN that her legal team will appeal the verdict within 15 days.

According to the rights group Amnesty International, she was convicted of adultery because her marriage to a Christian man was considered void under Sharia law. She was sentenced to 100 lashes for the second crime.

The court gave her three days to reconvert to Islam or face death. The government of Sudan also insisted that this was normal justice in Islamic countries:

In what is said to be the first case of its kind in Sudan, Ibrahim was told by a court in the capital Khartoum on Sunday that she had three days to recant her faith or face death.

Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan’s Information minister, told the AFP news agency: “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.”

Western nations immediately protested the court’s ruling, as did Amnesty International, which is seeking to publicize the case:

“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,” 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.”

The Khartoum embassies of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland expressed their opposition to the case in a joint statement.

The US has limited resources with which to act. We have diplomatic relations with Sudan and deliver a significant amount of humanitarian aid, but we have no ambassador to Sudan; the post has been vacant for a year or more. We have sanctions still in place from the Darfur conflict, although we are also working to mediate the remaining disputes in the settlement. We could squeeze Khartoum on aid, but that would almost certainly backfire on the US in terms of public relations.

Nevertheless, we need to keep pressure in some form on Sudan to reverse this decision. We should also pray for Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, and for true justice to be done.