Sudan death row 'apostate' mother unchained

2014-06-18 05:30

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Khartoum - Sudanese jailers removed the chains from a Christian woman, sentenced to death for apostasy, after she gave birth in prison last month, one of her lawyers said on Tuesday.

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her on 15 May to hang.

Born to a Muslim father, she was convicted under Islamic shari'ah law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

Twelve days after the verdict, Ishag gave birth to a daughter at the women's prison in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman.

"They removed the chains" after she delivered, one of her lawyers, Mohanad Mustafa, told AFP.

"This is on order by the doctor."

Sudanese law requires anyone sentenced to death to be shackled but Mustafa said he did not think they would be put back on again.

After the delivery, Ishag was moved to the prison clinic from a cell she shared with other women.

"After she gave birth the conditions got better," Mustafa said.

"She has air conditioning. She has a good bed," he said after he and Ishag's Catholic husband, Daniel Wani, visited her.

"She's fine. Usually her husband brings the food, and he gives her money" to buy any other items she needs.

Inhumane verdict

The couple's 20-month-old son is also incarcerated with Ishag and their daughter.

Mustafa said that despite the relative improvement in Ishag's conditions, "a prison is a prison".

Last week, European Union leaders called for revocation of the "inhumane verdict," while US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Khartoum to repeal its laws banning Muslims from converting.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the way she has been treated "is barbaric and has no place in today's world."

Mustafa and four other human rights lawyers handling her case for free have appealed the verdict.

"We're still waiting," and there is no word on when the higher court's decision may come, Mustafa said.

A church source was optimistic Ishag would be freed because of international pressure on Sudan.

"I am hopeful that she will be released," said the source, asking for anonymity.

But Muslim extremist groups have been lobbying the Islamist government over Ishag's case, prominent newspaper editor Khalid Tigani has said.

Never a Muslim

Ishag, born in eastern Sudan's Gedaref state on 3 November 1987, is the daughter of a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, a statement obtained by AFP on Tuesday from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum says.

Her father abandoned the family when Ishag was five, and she was raised according to her mother's faith, it says.

"She has never been a Muslim in her life," said the statement signed by Father Mussa Timothy Kacho, episcopal vicar for Khartoum.

Ishag joined the Catholic church shortly before she married the Khartoum-born Wani in December 2011, the vicar said.

Wani is a United States citizen, the US embassy confirmed to AFP on Tuesday.

The case against Ishag dates from 2013 when "a group of men who claim to be Meriam's relatives" filed an initial legal action, the vicar's statement said.

In fact, she had never seen those men before, the statement added, in comments confirmed by the lawyer Mustafa.

Ishag and her husband own a barber shop, a mini-mart and an agricultural project in Gedaref, the vicar said.

Mustafa did not know if there is a link between the businesses and the case against Ishag but he said: "Surely there is something behind this".

The Ishag case is the latest problem facing Sudan, an impoverished nation battling rebellions in its west and south, while more than six million people need humanitarian aid.

Read more on:    meriam yahia ibrahim ishag  |  sudan  |  east africa  |  shariah
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