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Sudan frees Christian woman sentenced to death for apostasy

JOHANNESBURG — A Christian woman in Sudan sentenced to death last month for apostasy was released Monday after her conviction was overturned by Khartoum’s appeal court, according to her lawyer.

The appeal court Monday ordered Meriam Yehya Ibrahim’s release after hearing her appeal, according to Sudan’s official news agency, SUNA. Her lawyer, Mohamed Mustafa Elnour, said she had been released, Reuters news service reported.

Ibrahim, 27, recently gave birth to her second child in Omdurman’s women’s prison from her marriage to Daniel Wani, an American Christian from South Sudan. She was jailed in February with her first child, Martin, after a family member reported her to the authorities over her marriage to a non-Muslim.

A court convicted Ibrahim last month and sentenced her to death by hanging for apostasy, even though she insisted she had been raised a Christian by her Ethiopian Christian mother and had never been a Muslim. The court also ruled her 2011 marriage to Wani invalid and sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery.

The conviction and sentences were condemned by human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Western governments including the United States and Britain, with calls for Sudan to guarantee freedom of religion.

In Sudan, abandoning Islam to convert to Christianity or another faith is an offense punishable by death under the country’s 1991 penal code. The court gave Ibrahim a chance to renounce her Christianity in order to avoid the death sentence, but she refused to do so.

According to Ibrahim, her father was a Muslim but played no role in her upbringing after leaving the family when she was 6. But in Sudan, children are supposed to be brought up in their father’s faith. In her initial court hearing, Ibrahim’s lawyers presented witnesses who testified that she was a regular churchgoer.

Conditions in the women’s prison were harsh, with reports that Ibrahim was in chains in her cell. She gave birth to her second child in the jail’s hospital wing.

Elnour, her attorney, told Reuters that she had been sent to a safe location after her release in fear for her safety.

“Her family had been threatened before, and we are worried that someone might try to harm her,” he said.

Ibrahim’s second child, a daughter, was born shortly after the death penalty was handed down. The court ruled that she would be allowed to care for the baby for two years, then the death penalty would be carried out.
 

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