A Christian mother in Sudan, who is pregnant with a second child and has been sentenced to 100 lashes and death on charges of apostasy and adultery, has a long legal battle ahead even as her wheelchair-bound husband says his hope lies only in his prayers to God.
Mohamed Jar Elnabi, the lawyer of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Christian woman who has a 20-month-old son and is eight months pregnant, says he plans to file an appeal application on Sunday.
The young mother was convicted on April 30, and given three days to recant her Christian faith on May 11. "The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," Judge Abaas Al Khalifa finally told her Thursday after she refused to forsake Christianity.
Ibrahim has been kept at the Omdurman Federal Women's Prison with her son since Feb. 17.
Ibrahim's father was a Sudanese Muslim who left her when she was just 6 years old. She was raised by her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox. However, Sudan's Islamic law recognized her as a Muslim because her father was one. It also considers her relationship with her Christian husband as "illicit."
According to law in Sudan, a death sentence cannot be executed until the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court ratify the ruling. Besides, Sharia law as practiced in Sudan does allow execution of pregnant women until two years after lactation.
"I am very much optimistic that the appeal court will reverse the death sentence issued by the primary court," the lawyer told CNN.
The Sudanese constitution provides for religious conversion without restriction, he added.
Meanwhile, Ibrahim remains strong. "She is very strong and very firm. She is very clear that she is a Christian and that she will get out one day," the lawyer said.
But the wait is not easy for Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, as he "totally depends on her for all details of his life," Elnabi said. "He is very affected from being trapped inside a prison from such a young age. He is always getting sick due to lack of hygiene and bugs."
"I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do," Wani was quoted as saying. "I'm just praying."
The religious atmosphere is tense in Sudan. Elnabi received a death threat Wednesday, the day before Ibrahim was sentenced. "I feel very scared," he was quoted as saying. "I live in fear if I just hear a door open or a strange sound in the street. I could never leave the case. This is a matter of belief and principles. I must help someone who is in need, even if it will cost me my life."
The sentencing has received condemnation from around the world.
"Handing the death sentence to a citizen just because she was raised as a Christian is unimaginable in today's world," Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance's Religious Liberty Commission, said Friday in a statement. "Her marriage has also been declared as 'illicit' relationship, and she has been sentenced to flogging soon after she gives birth to a child. This is unthinkable brutality."
The court ruling is distortion of Islam and Sharia, "which are often used as an excuse for restricting rights," Yogarajah added. "Most Muslims believe the Qur'an is about justice, which is also the purpose of Sharia. The sentence does not serve this purpose."
Embassies of the United States, Britain, Canada and the Netherlands have also denounced the sentencing, urging the Sudanese government to intervene. "We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs, a right which is enshrined in international human rights law as well as in Sudan's own 2005 Interim Constitution," they said in a statement.
"Adultery and apostasy are acts which should not be considered crimes at all, let alone meet the international standard of 'most serious crimes' in relation to the death penalty," Amnesty International said in a statement. "It is a flagrant breach of international human rights law."
International faith-based aid agencies have been helping Christians flee persecution at the hands of the Islamic government in Sudan, after South Sudan gained independence in 2011.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has also found President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's Sudanese government to be guilty of "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief."