Sudanese Christian sentenced to die gets reprieve

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KHARTOUM, Su­dan — A Su­da­nese ap­peals court has freed Meriam Ye­hia Ibrahim and can­celed the death sen­tence she re­ceived af­ter re­fus­ing to re­cant her Chris­tian faith, her law­yer said Mon­day.

Ms. Ibrahim, 27, was re­leased from jail Mon­day and is now with her hus­band, Daniel Wani, one of her law­yers, Elsha­reef Ali, said by phone from the cap­i­tal, Khar­toum.

A Su­da­nese court last month sen­tenced Ms. Ibrahim to death by hang­ing in a case that sparked con­dem­na­tion from gov­ern­ments in­clud­ing the United States and the United King­dom as well as rights groups such as Am­nesty In­ter­na­tional. Su­dan’s gov­ern­ment said it wouldn’t in­ter­fere in the de­ci­sions of its ju­di­ciary.

“This is a vic­tory for the Su­da­nese con­sti­tu­tion and for free­dom of faith in Su­dan,” Mr. Ali said. “The court can­celed all the de­ci­sions taken against her, in­clud­ing an­nul­ling the mar­riage and the adul­tery con­vic­tion. She is now free to go any­where.”

Ms. Ibrahim on May 27 gave birth to a girl she was car­ing for in prison along with her 20-month-old son. Under Su­da­nese law, a preg­nant woman can’t be ex­e­cuted un­til she gives birth and raises the child for two years, ac­cord­ing to Am­nesty.

Ms. Ibrahim’s le­gal team filed an ap­peal May 22, say­ing the ver­dict con­tra­dicts the coun­try’s 2005 con­sti­tu­tion, which guar­an­tees free­dom of re­li­gion as well as in­ter­na­tional rights agree­ments to which Su­dan is a sig­na­tory.

Her hus­band, Mr. Wani, an Amer­i­can Chris­tian from South Su­dan, said she was raised as a Chris­tian by her Ethi­o­pian mother af­ter her Su­da­nese Muslim father left when she was 6 years old. She was ar­rested in Au­gust af­ter men who said they were from her father’s side of the fam­ily re­port­edly ac­cused her of adul­tery be­cause of her mar­riage to a Chris­tian man, Am­nesty said.

An apos­tasy charge was added when she said she was never a Muslim, con­tra­dict­ing the court, which con­sid­ered her as hav­ing the same faith as her father. Ms. Ibrahim’s mar­riage was an­nulled, and she was sen­tenced to 100 lashes for adul­tery in ac­cor­dance with Su­dan’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Islamic law, which doesn’t per­mit unions be­tween Muslim women and non-Muslim men.

Su­dan's For­eign Min­is­try said it had come un­der “un­prece­dented” in­ter­na­tional pres­sure to free Ms. Ibrahim. “Now that the in­de­pen­dent Su­da­nese ju­di­ciary has said its word in the case of a sin­gle na­tional, the For­eign Min­is­try would like to re­mind the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity about the con­tin­ued suf­fer­ing of 35 mil­lion na­tion­als as a re­sult of sanc­tions,” its state­ment said.

U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry wel­comed the de­ci­sion to re­lease Ms. Ibrahim. “From this step, we would hope that the gov­ern­ment of Su­dan could take fur­ther strides to­ward a dif­fer­ent and more hope­ful fu­ture for the peo­ple of Su­dan,” he said in a state­ment.

The U.S. im­posed sanc­tions on Su­dan in 1997 over al­leged hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions and sup­port for what it called “in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism,” then strength­ened the pen­al­ties in 2006 over Khar­toum's fes­ter­ing con­flict with reb­els in Dar­fur.


Reu­ters News Ser­vice and the Los An­ge­les Times con­trib­uted.


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