A Sudanese court has sentenced to death a 27-year-old pregnant woman for refusing to recant her Christian faith. Mariam Yahya Ibrahim was also charged with adultery for marrying a Christian man and was sentenced to 100 lashes for the crime.
The court in Khartoum, Sudan, ordered Ibrahim to abandon her adopted Christian faith and return to Islam. Judge Abbas al Khalifa asked Ibrahim whether she would convert back to Islam. After she said “I am a Christian,” a death sentence by hanging for apostasy, abandoning the faith, was handed down, judicial sources told Reuters.
The death penalty will be carried out after Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant, gives birth to her child.
According to the country’s laws, progeny must follow their paternal faith and Ibrahim’s father is a Muslim. Her mother, who predominantly raised Ibrahim, is an Orthodox Christian. Ibrahim’s lawyers plan to appeal the verdict.
Protesters gathered outside of the court with about 50 people holding signs that said “Freedom of Religion” and “No to executing Mariam.” A smaller group rallied in favor of the verdict and chanted “God is greatest.”
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s government is facing a major crisis after the 2011 secession of South Sudan, which was the country’s main source of oil. Last year, a decision by Bashir to cut subsidies and impose austerity measures prompted violent protests, which killed more than a dozen people.
Activists are becoming increasingly vocal against Bashir with students protesting near Khartoum University this month seeking an end to human rights abuses and better social and economic conditions.
Western embassies and activists condemned the country’s human rights abuses and called on the Sudanese government to respect freedom of faith.
Sudan’s government and then President Jaafar al-Nimeiri introduced Islamic law in 1983. Two years later, Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, who opposed Sharia law in Sudan, was executed for apostasy.
In total, 13 countries, all Muslim, have capital punishment sentences for apostasy or blasphemy. These countries are Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, according to The Freethought Report 2013.
In Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman was sentenced for apostasy in 2006. The country received backlash from others condemning the verdict as a human rights abuse. Eventually Rahman’s sentenced was overturned on a technicality and he was offered asylum in Italy, but apostasy accusations have reemerged several times in the country.
In 1989, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini infamously accused Salman Rushdie of apostasy and sentenced him to death. In 1998, the Iranian government said it would no longer support the sentence, but some have said it is irrevocable.
Others in Iran have been accused of apostasy for making statements that go against the Islamic faith and the country has one of the highest rates of carrying out the death penalty — second only to China.
In Saudi Arabia, multiple people have been accused of apostasy and remain in jail without receiving a fair trial.