A file picture taken on October 6, 2013 shows people walking past the courthouse in the Haj Yousef district in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. A Sudanese judge on May 15, 2014 sentenced a Christian woman to hang.AFP/PHOTO
A Sudanese judge on Thursday sentenced a Christian woman to hang for apostasy, despite appeals by Western embassies for compassion and respect for religious freedom.
Born to a Muslim father, the woman was convicted under the Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, is eight months pregnant and married to a Christian national of South Sudan which broke away in 2011, human rights activists say.
"We gave you three days to recant but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged," Judge Abbas Mohammed Al-Khalifa told the woman, addressing her by her father's Muslim name, Adraf Al-Hadi Mohammed Abdullah.
Khalifa also sentenced Ishaq to 100 lashes for "adultery". Under Sudan's interpretation of sharia, a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and any such relationship is regarded as adulterous.
Ishag reacted without emotion when Abbas delivered the verdict at a court in the Khartoum district of Haj Yousef.
Earlier in the hearing, an Islamic religious leader spoke with her in the caged dock for about 30 minutes.
Then she calmly told the judge: "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy."
Sudan has a strongly Islamist government but, other than floggings, extreme sharia law punishments have been rare.
After the hearing about 50 people demonstrated against the verdict.
"No to executing Meriam," said one of their signs while another proclaimed: "Religious rights are a constitutional right."
In a speech, one demonstrator said they would continue their protests until she is freed.
A smaller group supporting the verdict also arrived but there was no violence.
"This is a decision of the law. Why are you gathered here?" one supporter asked, prompting an activist to retort: "Why do you want to execute Meriam? Why don't you bring corruptors to the court?"
Sudan is widely perceived as one of the most graft-ridden countries in the world, ranked 174th for its performance by campaign group Transparency International. AFP