Sudanese woman on death row freed: Lawyer

June 24, 2014 - 6:57:04 am

KHARTOUM: A Sudanese Christian who gave birth in prison after being sentenced to hang for apostasy was freed yesterday, one of her lawyers said.

Official media confirmed that an appeal court annulled the earlier verdict against Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26.

Her case sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

Almost one million people appealed to save her life on the petition website.

“Meriam was released just about an hour ago,” the lawyer Mohanad Mustafa said yesterday.

“She’s now out of prison,” he said. Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under the law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

Her lawyers appealed the verdict. Yesterday, the higher court “issued a judgement 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.

A few days after the birth Ishag’s husband, Daniel Wani, said 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 verdict, while US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Khartoum to repeal its laws. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the way she had been treated was “barbaric and has no place in today’s world”.

“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 scholars have divergent opinions on the issue of changing religion, and “jurisprudence in Islam is very broad,” allowing for a solution, he said.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the group was delighted that “the unjust, inhumane and unwarranted sentences have been annulled”.

But he said the British-based group, which works for religious freedom, was appalled that “threats and hate speech” have been directed against Ishag and her lawyers. 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.AFP