Sudanese Pregnant Woman Case Spotlights 1 in 10 Nations Legally Punish Apostasy

A report by Pew Research Center has found that as of 2012, about one in ten nations in the world have legal punishments for apostasy, or the leaving of one's faith.

Released Wednesday and authored by Angelina Theodorou, the report found that 11 percent of countries and territories had apostasy laws and 22 percent had blasphemy laws.

"Apostasy and blasphemy may seem to many like artifacts of history. But in dozens of countries around the world, laws against apostasy and blasphemy remain even today," wrote Theodorou.

"We found that laws restricting apostasy and blasphemy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 14 of the 20 countries (70%) criminalize blasphemy and 12 of the 20 countries (60%) criminalize apostasy."

Most of the nations listed as still having apostasy laws were majority Muslim and included Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Egypt, Yemen, Oman, Malaysia, and the Maldives.

Nigeria, a nation that is nearly equally split between Muslim and Christian, was also listed as having legal proscriptions against apostasy.

"For instance, in the Maldives, all citizens are required to be Muslim, and those who convert may lose their citizenship," wrote Theodorou.

"Including Sudan, anti-apostasy measures were in effect in more than half the countries in the Middle East-North Africa region as of 2012."

Blasphemy laws were found to be in wider range and included many predominantly Christian nations, such as Peru, Poland, Germany, and Ireland. Within the United States, Massachusetts and Michigan still have blasphemy laws on the books, albeit they are seldom enforced.

The Pew report on apostasy laws comes as the world learned of the plight of Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a pregnant Sudanese woman sentenced to 100 lashes for allegedly practicing adultery by marrying a Christian.

The charge of apostasy was added when the court decided that since her father was Muslim, the Orthodox Christian Ibrahim had left the Islamic faith. In Sudan, apostasy can carry a capital punishment.

The court in Sudan that convicted her has held off the sentence for two years so Ibrahim can nurse her newborn child, reported the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Ibrahim's sentence has garnered international outrage, as groups like Amnesty International have called for the sentence to be reversed.

"Amnesty International believes Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is a prisoner of conscience and must be immediately and unconditionally released," reads an Amnesty International action alert.

"Stop the flogging and execution and demand Meriam's immediate and unconditional re-lease! Sudanese authorities need to hear from you now."