A Sudanese court has sentenced a woman to hang for apostasy after she left Islam and married a Christian man.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim Ishag was given four days to repent and escape death following the sentencing earlier this week, judicial officials said. The deadline expired yesterday.
Officials said the court in the capital, Khartoum, had yesterday also ordered she be given 100 lashes for committing “zena” –an Arabic term for illegitimate sex – for having relations with a non-Muslim.
Mrs Ibrahim, said to be eight months pregnant, married a Christian in 2011 and the couple have a child.
In Sudan, Muslim women are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith.
“We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death,” the judge told the woman. Human rights group Amnesty International condemned the sentence as “appalling and abhorrent”.
Local media report the sentence would not be carried out until two years after the birth.
Western embassies and rights groups had urged Sudan to respect the right of the pregnant woman to choose her religion.
It was reported that the 100 lashes the woman was sentenced to will be carried out when she has recovered from giving birth.
In court, the judge addressed her by her Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
She was convicted of adultery on the grounds that her marriage to a Christian man from South Sudan was void under Sudan’s version of Islamic law.
The woman was sentenced to death on Sunday but given until yesterday “to return to Islam”.
Earlier in the hearing, an Islamic cleric spoke with her in a caged dock for about 30 minutes. Then she calmly told the judge: “I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy.”
Amnesty International said the woman was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her father, a Muslim, was absent during her childhood.
There is a long-running debate in Islam over whether apostasy is a crime.
Liberal scholars hold the view that it is not, backing up their argument by citing the Koranic verse which states: “There shall be no compulsion in religion.”
Others say apostasy is tantamount to treason – and refer to what Prophet Muhammad said: “It is not permissible to spill the blood of a Muslim except in three [instances]: A life for a life; a married person who commits adultery; and one who forsakes his religion and separates from the community.”
The latter is the dominant view in conservative Muslim states such as Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and the cause of much religious tension.
There were reports of small groups of protesters outside the court – both Mrs Ibrahim’s supporters and those who back the punishment.
One of her lawyers said they would appeal to a higher court to get the sentence overturned.