A pregnant woman in Sudan was sentenced to death by hanging Thursday because she refused to renounce Christianity for Islam, a leading human rights group said, in a case that has drawn international condemnation.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, who is eight months pregnant, was convicted under the Islamist-led government on charges of apostasy - the crime of abandoning or criticizing Islam - which is punishable by death in several Muslim-majority countries. The U.S., Canada and the U.K. have decried the verdict.
Her lawyers told Amnesty International that religious clerics in court had asked the 27-year-old Thursday if she would recant her faith - but she told them: "I am a Christian."
Ibrahim - who already has a 20-month-old son - was also sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery because she is married to a Christian man from South Sudan, the oil-rich nation which recently gained independence. Marrying a Christian is prohibited under strict Islamic law, which is part of Sudan's constitution.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim with her husband Daniel Wani, a Christian man from South Sudan.
Ibrahim's father was a Muslim but apparently was absent for most of her childhood. She told the court in the capital Khartoum that she had been raised by her mother as an Orthodox Christian, but the court said there was no evidence of this beyond 2005 and that she had recently converted from Islam.
Following her conviction on Sunday, Ibrahim was given three days to recant her faith or face a death sentence. Amnesty International's Sudan researcher Manar Idriss said Ibrahim's lawyers plans to appeal the conviction, but she is expected to remain in custody with her young child.
There have been other cases of people sentenced to death since execution was introduced as punishment for apostasy in Sudan in 1991. However, Idriss told NBC News that up until now, all defendants had opted to renounce their faith. Ibrahim is the first to refuse, she said.
Ahmed Bilal Osman, Sudan's Information minister, told the AFP news agency before the verdict: "It's not only Sudan. In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion."
Idriss said that the fact a woman can be sentenced to death "for her religious choice... is abhorrent."
"'Adultery' and 'apostasy' are acts which should not be considered crimes at all...It is flagrant breach of international human rights law."
The Khartoum embassies of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Holland expressed their opposition to the case in a joint statement.
"We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs," the statement said.
Reuters contributed to this report.
First published May 15 2014, 1:28 AM