A Sudanese judge has sentenced a pregnant Christian woman to death by hanging for renouncing Islam, despite appeals by Western embassies for compassion and respect for religious freedom.
The court in the capital Khartoum on Thursday sentenced the 27-year-old, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, to hang for the crime of apostasy, the renunciation of a religion.
In sentencing, Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told the woman she was being put to death because despite being given three days to recant she would not return to Islam.
Ms Ishag told the judge she was a Christian and never committed apostasy.
Born to a Muslim father, she was convicted under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
Ms Ishag has also been sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery, because being married to a Christian is not valid under Islamic law and is considered adultery.
Sudan has a strongly Islamist government but, other than floggings, extreme sharia law punishments such as lashes and hangings have been rare.
After the hearing about 50 people demonstrated against the verdict.
“No to executing Meriam,” said one of their signs, while another proclaimed: “Religious rights are a constitutional right.”
In a speech, one demonstrator said they would continue their protests until she is freed.
A smaller group supporting the verdict also arrived but there was no violence.
“This is a decision of the law. Why are you gathered here?” one supporter asked, prompting an activist to retort: “Why do you want to execute Meriam? Why don’t you bring corruptors to the court?”
Sudan is widely perceived as one of the most graft-ridden countries in the world, ranked 174th for its performance by campaign group Transparency International.
Foreign embassies rally to support religious freedom
During Ms Ishag’s sentencing around 100 people, including Western embassy representatives, were in court offering their support.
In a joint statement on Tuesday four embassies – the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands – expressed “deep concern” over her 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,” they said in their statement.
That right is included in Sudan’s 2005 interim constitution as well as in international human rights law, they said.
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