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HindustanTimes Tue,16 Sep 2014

World

Death row Sudanese Christian 'apostate' freed: lawyer
AFP
Khartoum, June 23, 2014
First Published: 20:53 IST(23/6/2014)
Last Updated: 21:39 IST(23/6/2014)

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

The case of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

"Meriam was released just about an hour ago," Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday afternoon.

"She's now out of prison," he said, but authorities will not issue the reasons for her release until Tuesday.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under Islamic sharia 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.

And a few days later, Ishag's husband, Daniel Wani, told AFP 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 "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 had been treated was "barbaric and has no place in today's world".

'Never a Muslim'
Mustafa and four other human rights lawyers handling her case for free had appealed the verdict but word of her release was unexpected.

Earlier Monday Mustafa had said he still had no idea when the appeal court might render a verdict.

"It's great," a church source said of her release, after last week expressing optimism that she would be freed because of international pressure on Sudan.

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

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.

"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 her Khartoum-born husband in December 2011, the vicar said.

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

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 was a link between the businesses and the case against Ishag but he said: "Surely there is something behind this".

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


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