Sudanese court orders release of woman sentenced to death for changing faith

Sudanese court orders release of woman sentenced to death for changing faith

KHARTOUM - Reuters
Sudanese court orders release of woman sentenced to death for changing faith

In his image made from an undated video provided June 5 by Al Fajer, a Sudanese nongovernmental organization, Mariam Ibrahim breastfeeds her newborn baby girl that she gave birth to in jail last week, as the NGO visits her in a room at a prison in Khartoum, Sudan. AP Photo

A Sudanese Christian woman who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed on June 23, one of her lawyers said.

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

"Meriam was released just about an hour ago," Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on June 23 afternoon. "She's now out of prison," he said.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

Her lawyers had appealed the verdict. On June 23 the higher court "issued a judgment on release of the prisoner Abrar Al-Hadi Mohamed Abdalla and dismissing the decree issued earlier by the first instance court," the official SUNA news agency reported, using her father's Muslim name.

Twelve days after the initial ruling, Ishag gave birth to a daughter at the women's prison in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

And a few days later, Ishag's husband, Daniel Wani, told AFP he did not believe she would be freed.

The couple's 20-month-old son was also incarcerated with Ishag and their daughter.

European Union leaders called for revocation of the "inhumane verdict," while U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Khartoum to repeal its laws banning Muslims from converting.

"It's great," a Sudanese church source said of her release, after last week expressing optimism that she would be freed because of international pressure on Sudan. Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, a senior official in the ruling National Congress Party, said international pressure had nothing to do with the decision to free Ishag.

Muslim extremist groups had lobbied the Islamist government over Ishag's case, prominent newspaper editor Khalid Tigani has said.

Ishag was born in eastern Sudan's Gedaref state on November 3, 1987, but her Sudanese Muslim father abandoned the family when Ishag was five, leaving her to be raised according to her mother's faith, an earlier statement from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum said.

"She has never been a Muslim in her life," said the statement signed by Father Mussa Timothy Kacho, episcopal vicar for Khartoum. Ishag joined the Catholic church shortly before she married her Khartoum-born husband in December 2011, the vicar said. Wani is a United States citizen, the U.S. embassy confirmed to AFP.

The case against Ishag dates from 2013 when "a group of men who claim to be Meriam's relatives" filed an initial legal action, the vicar's statement said.