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Husband of Sudanese Christian on death row says appeals court is deliberating

By Nima Elbagir and Faith Karimi, CNN
updated 12:39 AM EDT, Sun June 8, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was condemned to die by hanging last month
  • Her apostasy conviction came after she refused to renounce her Christianity
  • Her husband says the appeals court sent him formal notice of deliberations

Khartoum, Sudan (CNN) -- A Sudanese appeals court has started deliberating the case of a woman sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, her husband said.

Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, was condemned to die by hanging last month after she declined to profess she is a Muslim, the religion of her father.

Sharia law considers her a Muslim and does not recognize her marriage to a Christian. She said she was raised as a Christian by her mother after her father walked out on them.

"Formal notification was given to myself and my lawyer that the appeals court has begun deliberation of Mariam's case," said Daniel Wani, her husband.

He said he got the notice Thursday.

Seeking asylum in the U.S.

As the case goes through the courts, Wani, who is an American citizen, said he is asking U.S. officials to expedite the asylum process for his wife.

If she's released, their lives could be in grave danger in Sudan, he said.

"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 he is appealing his home state lawmakers, New Hamphire's U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte.

Committed to her religion

The court convicted Ibrahim of apostasy on May 15. At the time, she was eight months pregnant. She gave birth to a baby girl late last month at a Khartoum prison, where she's detained with Martin, her 20-month-old son.

Despite languishing in prison with two infants, she's holding firm to her beliefs, according to her husband.

"There is pressure on her from Muslim religious leaders that she should return to the faith," Wani told CNN in a TV exclusive. "She said, 'How can I return when I never was a Muslim? Yes, my father was a Muslim, but I was brought up by my mother.' "

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Wani said his wife is a practicing Christian, more so than him, and even had their son baptized.

"I know my wife. She's committed," he said. "They brought in sheikhs (to the prison) and she told them, 'I'm pretty sure I'm not going to change my mind.' "

Wani said he is thrilled about his new daughter but hopes her birth doesn't hasten his wife's death sentence.

In past cases involving pregnant or nursing women, Sudan waited until the mother had weaned her child before executing any sentence. Sharia law as practiced in Sudan prohibits carrying out the death sentence on a pregnant woman until two years after she gives birth.

CNN sought comment from the Sudanese government and was directed to the justice ministry. A CNN request for an interview was denied, and the justice minister said they don't comment on matters that are going through the courts.

An attempt to contact Sudan's foreign affairs minister was unsuccessful.

Muslim relatives turned her in

Ibrahim was arrested after Muslim relatives accused her of renouncing her religion.

Their complaint alleged that she went missing for years, and her family was shocked to find out she married a Christian.

Wani said he'd never met the relatives who made the accusations. His wife, he said, was raised a Christian by her mother, an Ethiopian Orthodox, after her Muslim father deserted the family when she was 6.

"These people filed charges claiming that she was their sister and filed a police report saying that she had disappeared," he said.

Brother: Repent or die

However, one of Ibrahim's brothers, Al-Samani al-Hadi, tells a different story.

He claims Wani --- whom he called "the priest" -- fed his sister "potions" to convert her to Christianity. He wants her to repent.

"But if she refuses she should be executed," he told CNN last week.

At first, Ibrahim was charged with adultery for marrying a Christian. The apostasy accusation was added after she maintained she was a Christian, according to her husband.

She's been detained since January 17. In addition to the death sentence, the court sentenced her to 100 lashes for the adultery conviction.

CNN's Nima Elbagir reported from Khartoum, and Faith Karimi reported and wrote from Atlanta.

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