Sudan Relenting after Outrage over Death Sentence?

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KHARTOUM, Sudan - There is new hope for Meriam Ibrahim, a pregnant mother sentenced to death in Sudan for being a Christian.

In the face of growing international outrage, the Sudanese government has begun to backpedal, saying Sudan is committed to freedom of religion and saying the woman can appeal.

The news comes one week after 26-year-old Ibrahim was convicted of "apostasy" and given four days to repent and escape death, according to her lawyer.

The court also ordered that Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for committing "zena" -- Arabic for illegitimate sex -- for having sexual relations with her husband, Daniel Wani, a Christian from southern Sudan who has U.S. citizenship.

According to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the court ruled that Ibrahim left Islam when she married a Christian man.

But Ibrahim, who also has a 20-month-old son who stays with her in her prison cell, disputed the court's claim.

"I was never a Muslim," she said. "I was raised a Christian from the start."

***Who is Meriam? Tina Ramirez, founder of Hardwired, a human rights organization, offered more insight into her life and sentencing, on Christian World News on May 16.

The court gave the Christian mother an opportunity to recant her Christian faith, but Ibrahim refused to do so, reportedly telling the court: "I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian."

The prosecutor's spokesman, Ahmad Hassan, said the couple was "given ample time to prove their innocence, but I believe in upholding our traditions and customs as Sudanese."

"The court has no appearance of justice or respect for freedom of choice in one's beliefs, personally and individually," political activist Amal Habany said.

Tina Ramirez, with the human rights group Hardwired, said the U.S. government has not been helpful in this case.

"There's a huge failure on behalf of the United States. The husband, Daniel, had even tried to get a visa for his wife and child to come to the U.S. prior to this," Ramirez said. "And there were many complications and it still hasn't been processed."

If there is any good news, it is that there is still time to save Meriam's life.

"There will be an appeal and that could take years," Ramirez said. "They won't put her to death while she is pregnant or weaning the child so it could take a couple of years before the sentence is carried out anyway."

There have been a number of cases over the years of Sudanese convicted of apostasy, but they all escaped the death sentences by recanting their faith.

The woman's lawyer called the conviction legally flawed since the judge refused to hear key defense witnesses, and he accused the court of ignoring constitutional provisions for freedom of worship and equality among citizens.

As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, while Muslim men can marry outside their faith.

By law, children must follow their father's religion. Ibrahim's father was Muslim but her mother was an Orthodox Christian from Ethiopia.

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