A 27-year-old woman, who is eight months pregnant, has been sentenced to death in Sudan for converting to Christianity from Islam, sparking protests in a country already riddled with social strife.
Mariam Yahya Ibrahim had been ordered to give up her
newly-adopted Christian faith by Thursday and return to Islam.
Judge Abbas Khalifa asked Ibrahim whether she agreed to return to Islam. After she said, "I am a Christian," a charge of apostasy was declared and the death sentence was handed down, according to judicial sources, quoted by Reuters.
"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, AFP reported.
The woman had also been charged with adultery for marrying a Christian man.
Amnesty International immediately condemned the sentence, calling
it "abhorrent." The organisation said the woman was raised as an
Orthodox Christian, her mother's religion, because her father, a
Muslim, was reportedly absent during her childhood.
Outside the courthouse, around 50 people protested the decision, holding placards that read "Freedom of Religion."
Islamists celebrated the court decision, chanting "God is Great."
Sudanese activists condemned the decision and called on the Sudanese government to uphold the freedom of belief for all people.
"The details of this case expose the regime's blatant interference in the personal life of Sudanese citizens," Sudan Change Now Movement, a youth group, said in a statement.
The embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands released a common statement expressing "deep concern" about the court proceeding, urging the North African country of almost 31 million people to respect the religious freedom of its citizens, AFP reported.
The high-profile case comes at a time of severe economic and political hardship for the government of President Omar Hassan Bashir, which suffered a major setback in 2011 when South Sudan, the country’s main oil supplier, seceded and formed its own sovereign state.
Amid the grinding economic downturn, Bashir ordered stringent austerity measures that prompted violent protests that led to the deaths of dozens of people.