Appeals Court Begins Trial of Sudanese Mother Sentenced to Death for Christian Faith

An appeals court in Sudan has begun deliberations in the case of a young mother sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith after allegedly converting from Islam, her husband and lawyer have said.

"Formal notification was given to myself and my lawyer that the appeals court has begun deliberation of Meriam's case," CNN quoted Daniel Wani, the husband of Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese mother who is in a prison with her 20-month-old son and newborn daughter, as saying Sunday.

The formal notice was given Thursday, he said.

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The appeal petition argues that there were "procedural errors" in the conduct of the trial court and thereby demands the release of Ibrahim, her lawyer, Eman Abdul-Rahim, told The Associated Press.

The young mother was convicted on April 30, and was 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 on May 15 after she refused to forsake Christianity.

Ibrahim, who was accused by her Muslim relatives, has been kept at the Omdurman Federal Women's Prison in North Khartoum 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."

Wani, who is a U.S. citizen, is hopeful that the appeal would lead to the court's ruling being overturned. He said he is asking American officials to expedite the asylum process for his wife, as he apprehends a threat to her life if she's released from the prison.

"I am scared for all our lives – me, my wife and my two children – if we have to remain inside Sudan, even a day after her release," Wani said, adding he is appealing his home state lawmakers, New Hamphire's U.S. senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.

"I'm hoping that, given the way people have come together around the world – which I want to thank them for," he said. "All the rights groups, all the broadcasters ... It's looking like it had an effect. Perhaps it will result in the judgment being overturned."

Earlier, Abdullah Alzareg, an under-secretary at the Sudanese Foreign Ministry, had said that Ibrahim could be released soon as Sudan guarantees religious freedom – which was later denied by a senior official.

In anticipation of Ibrahim's release at the time, tens of thousands of Americans signed a petition urging that the U.S. government to immediately grant refugee status to Ibrahim and her two children who are eligible for U.S. citizenship.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abubakar Al-Sidiq said that only a ruling from an appeals court can secure her release.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has found President Omar Hassan al-Bashir's Sudanese government to be guilty of "systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of religion or belief."

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