A woman sentenced to death in Sudan for refusing to renounce her Christian faith gave birth in a prison in Khartoum this week.
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim was raised by a Muslim father and a Christian mother. Since she’s a practicing Christian whose father is Muslim, she is considered an apostate and faces death under Sudan’s official interpretation of Islamic law — though she’ll likely be given around two years to raise her child before the execution is carried out.
The 27-year-old woman would be the first person executed for apostasy under the country’s current legal code, and Voice of America reports that Sudan’s Grand Mufti, the country’s highest religious authority, has come out against the sentence. The state won’t execute a nursing mother, so there is still a chance the sentence is not carried out.
Sudan is governed by an Islamist party that has implemented aspects of Sharia law. In recent decades, Sudan moved away from a more hardcore theocratic mode of government after a mid-1990s power struggle sidelined Hassan al Turabi, the Islamist intellectual and leader who helped turn the country into a safe-haven for Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden.
Today, the officially Islamist yet generically authoritarian National Congress Party is in power, and the crime and punishment provisions of sharia are applied selectively. Last year, a man convicted of robbery had a hand and foot cut off as punishment — though this was the first time that such a punishment had been used in Sudan in over three decades.
It’s possible that recent and more extreme implementations of Sharia law are connected to Sudan’s internal dysfunction. The government in Khartoum is bogged down fighting armed uprisings in the country’s south and west. Regional conflict threatens the flow of oil, which provides a majority of the Khartoum government’s budget. The population is chafing under decades of war and autocratic rule, and there were major protests in Khartoum last year.
Ibrahim’s death sentence indicates that Sudan, which is the lone Sunni Arab ally of Iran and is considered a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S., is willing to use the most severe aspects of Islamic law to keep society in line. Sentences like this might galvanize Islamist supporters of the regime and prove how far the authorities will go to maintain a fragile status quo — even if it means the execution of a young mother for refusing to convert out of her faith.
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