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Sudanese ordered to hang for apostasy gives birth in jail

A Christian Sudanese woman, sentenced to hang for apostasy in a case that sparked an international outcry, has given birth in jail, a Western diplomat said on Tuesday.

“She gave birth to a girl today,” said the diplomat, who is familiar with the case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag (27). “The mother and the baby seem to be doing OK,” said the diplomat who asked for anonymity.

But he said: “It’s a cruel treatment to be in such a situation.”

The case of Ishag has sparked global outrage since a Khartoum-area court sentenced her to death on May 15. 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.

“To give birth in jail … is certainly not the best place, for physical and psychological reasons,” the diplomat said.

Ishag’s husband, who is Christian, did not respond to telephone calls on Tuesday.

Human rights activists have said Ishag is being held at a women’s prison in Khartoum’s twin city Omdurman with her first child, a 20-month-old son. “We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged,” Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa said as he passed the verdict against Ishag, addressing her by her father’s Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.

Khalifa also sentenced her to 100 lashes for “adultery”. Under Sudan’s interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous.

Absent father
“I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy,” Ishag calmly told the judge before he passed sentence.

London-based Amnesty International said Ishag was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her Muslim father was absent. 

The foreign diplomat said of her case: “For the image of Sudan, it’s certainly no good.”

Britain and Canada last week summoned the top Sudanese diplomats in their countries over Ishag’s case, which they say conflicts with Sudan’s international human rights obligations. United Nations rights experts have called the conviction “outrageous” and said it must be overturned.

“Choosing and/or changing one’s religion is not a crime at all. On the contrary, it is a basic human right,” the UN experts said after the verdict.

Britain denounced the court’s decision as “barbaric” while the United States said it was “deeply disturbed” and Canada said it was “shocked and appalled”.

The Citizen newspaper, in an earlier editorial, said members of Ishag’s family filed the court case “for other hidden purposes”. One of her lawyers, Mohanad Mustafa, said the sentence would be appealed. He could not be reached on Tuesday.

Not unique
The woman would be allowed to nurse her baby for two years after the birth, before any death sentence is carried out, legal experts have said.

If she is hanged, Ishag will be the first person executed for apostasy under the 1991 penal code, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group working for religious freedom.

Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman has said Sudan is not unique in its law against apostasy. “In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion,” he said. – AFP

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