KHARTOUM, Sudan — A pregnant woman in Sudan is refusing to convert to Islam in the face of being sentenced to death by hanging.
Meriam Ibrahim, 27, was officially sentenced on Thursday after she was convicted of apostasy against Islam for professing to be an Orthodox Christian. Ibrahim was born to a Muslim father, but was raised by an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother as the father left the home when Ibrahim was a child. In Sudan, children are expected to follow the religion of their fathers.
Ibrahim was also sentenced to 100 lashes for allegedly committing “zena”—that is, having illegitimate sex by marrying a non-Muslim. The expectant mother married a professing Christian man, Daniel Wani, in 2011, and the two have an 18-month old son together, along with the child in Ibrahim’s womb. Sudanese law prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, although men can marry whomever they wish without penalty.
Ibrahim was convicted of apostasy on Sunday for rejecting Islam and was given four days to recant, which would have saved her life. Unlike others who have faced similar sentences in Sudan, she refused to convert.
“I am a Christian,” she declared before the court, “and I will remain a Christian.”
“We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam,” Judge Abbas Khalifa told Ibrahim, as reported by the AFP. “I sentence you to be hanged to death.”
Human rights groups worldwide have condemned the death sentence, characterizing it as “heinous” and “abhorrent.”
“Since 1999, Sudan has been designated as a Country of Particular Concern for its ongoing, egregious, and systematic violations of religious freedom,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council, in a written statement. “We continue to urge Sudan to fulfill its constitutional promise of religious freedom, and to respect the fundamental freedoms and universal human rights of all its people.”
“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 of Amnesty International. “Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of ‘most serious crimes’ in relation to the death penalty. It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law.”
Ibrahim’s husband, who is confined to a wheelchair, told CNN that he is distraught over the sentence.
“I’m so frustrated. I don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m just praying.”
Over 60 percent of Sudan identifies as Muslim, and the nation’s president, Omar al-Bashir, also an adherent to Islam, seeks to enforce Sharia law.
“Conversion from Islam is a crime punishable by death, suspected converts to Christianity face societal pressures, and government security personnel intimidate and sometimes torture those suspected of conversion,” reads a report written by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
International pressure continues to mount against Sudan to rescind its sentence as a number of human rights groups are demanding freedom for Ibrahim.