KHARTOUM : A Christian Sudanese woman, sentenced to hang for apostasy in a case that has sparked international outcry, has given birth in jail, her husband said Tuesday.
‘Until now I did not see them. They didn’t allow me to go in and see,’ Daniel Wani told AFP. ‘I’m disappointed really,’ he said from a prisons office where he was continuing efforts to see his wife and newborn daughter. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, is being held at a women’s prison in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman. Wani said he and his wife have not yet chosen a name for their baby. Ishag already has a 20-month old son, who is also incarcerated with her. A Khartoum-area court sentenced her to death on May 15. Born to a Muslim father, she was convicted under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
Wani said he is normally granted a weekly visit to the prison but had sought special permission to see his wife again after she gave birth. Ishag was ‘frustrated’ when he saw her on Monday, he said. ‘We weren’t able to speak. There is a guard sitting there beside us,’ said Wani, a Christian who says he was born in Khartoum. ‘The mother and the baby seem to be doing okay,’ a Western diplomat who is familiar with Ishag’s case told AFP.
But he said: ‘It’s a cruel treatment to be in such a situation.’ Giving birth in a jail ‘is certainly not the best place, for physical and psychological reasons,’ the diplomat said. ‘We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged,’ Judge Abbas Mohammed al-Khalifa said as he passed the verdict against Ishag, addressing her by her father’s Muslim name, Adraf al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
Khalifa also sentenced her to 100 lashes for ‘adultery.’ Under Sudan’s interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous. ‘I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy,’ Ishag calmly told the judge before he passed sentence. London-based Amnesty International said Ishag was raised as an Orthodox Christian, her mother’s religion, because her Muslim father was absent.
The Western diplomat said of her case: ‘For the image of Sudan, it’s certainly no good.’ Britain and Canada last week summoned the Sudanese envoys to their countries over Ishag’s case, which they say conflicts with Sudan’s international human rights obligations. United Nations rights experts have called the conviction ‘outrageous’ and said it must be overturned.
‘Choosing and/or changing one’s religion is not a crime at all. On the contrary, it is a basic human right,’ they said after the verdict. Britain denounced the court’s decision as ‘barbaric,’ while the United States said it was ‘deeply disturbed’ and Canada said it was ‘shocked and appalled.’ The Citizen newspaper, in an earlier editorial, said members of Ishag’s family filed the court case ‘for other hidden purposes.’
Wani declined to comment on what was behind the legal action against his wife. He said an appeal has already been filed. The woman would be allowed to nurse her baby for two years after the birth, before any death sentence is carried out, legal experts have said. If she is hanged, Ishag will be the first person executed for apostasy under the 1991 penal code, said Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group working for religious freedom. Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman has said Sudan is not unique in its law against apostasy. ‘In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion,’ he said.