KHARTOUM, Sudan (RNS) – A Sudanese woman who was sentenced to death by hanging for refusing to convert to Islam has been freed after an appeals court canceled the death sentence, according to the state-run news agency SUNA.
Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Roman Catholic and mother of two, had been sentenced to hang in April for abandoning her Muslim faith, triggering global outrage and condemnation, including a campaign with more than 1 million signatures.
Ibrahim was born to a Muslim father, but was raised by an Ethiopian Orthodox mother as the father left the home when Ibrahim was a child. In Sudan, children are expected to follow the religion of their fathers, and her father’s family had reportedly turned her into authorities for rejecting Islam.
Earlier news reports indicated that Ibrahim was an “Orthodox Christian,” but current reports show that she is Roman Catholic.
Many in the Muslim-majority nation held that Ibrahim, who married Daniel Bicensio Wani, an American citizen of South Sudan origin, should never have turned from Islam because her father was a Muslim.
The couple was arrested in September for adultery, after men claiming to be Ibrahim’s relatives complained to authorities that she had broken Shariah, or Islamic law, by marrying a non-Muslim. The charges were dropped last year, but an appeal overturned the ruling, bringing in the more serious charge of apostasy.
Supporters believe that international pressure helped bring her release, along with insistence that her sentence contravened the 2005 interim constitution, which allows freedom of religion.
In Sudan, where Christians and others are often persecuted through arrests and frequent interrogation, some have come out boldly to demand her release.
“Never in her life did she embrace the Islamic religion nor renounce it,” said Mussa Timothy Kacho, vicar general for the Khartoum Roman Catholic Archdiocese, in a statement.
Ibrahim and her brother Hassan, according to Kacho, were probably born out of wedlock. Their father, Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, abandoned the late Zahra Tesfai, an Ethiopian from the so-called Orthodox Church, when Meriam Ibrahim was 5 years old.
Ibrahim never saw her father, according to Kacho, grew up under the care of her Orthodox mother and was admitted as a Roman Catholic before she could marry her husband.
Ibrahim’s lawyer confirmed her release from jail.
Christian News Network contributed to his report.