A court in Sudan has sentenced a pregnant woman to death for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
Mariam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, who is already the mother to a 20-month-old son, was convicted of apostasy on Monday and given three days to abandon her faith.
Her lawyer, Mohamed Abdel Nabi, said the judge hearing the case asked her, "Where do you stand on being an apostate?"
"She answered, 'I’m not an apostate, your honor; because I was never a Muslim. I grew up a Christian.’ Then the judge announced, ‘you are sentenced to death by hanging,'" Nabi told South Sudan in Focus.
Mariam's husband, who is from South Sudan and holds a U.S. passport, confirmed that his wife was raised a Christian.
"She is from Darfur in western Sudan," Daniel Wani said.
"Her mother is from Ethiopia and she grew up with her mother. That's why she is a Christian, since she was young, you know,” he said.
Wani said he was prevented by the authorities from attending his wife’s appeal hearing but said he will continue to fight to save her life.
Death sentence not final
Sudan’s information minister, Ahmed Bilal, said that the the death sentence against Mariam was not final.
Even Sudan's Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the country, was opposed to the harsh sentence against the young woman, Bilal said.
According to Bilal, Grand Mufti Isam Ahmed Elbashir said Mariam should have been given more time to decide whether or not she wanted to convert to Islam.
The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the sentence of death by hanging imposed on Mariam but understood that the sentence was open to appeal.
"We continue to call upon the Government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, a right which is enshrined in Sudan’s own 2005 Interim Constitution as well as international human rights law," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in a statment.
Several embassies in Khartoum have also voiced concern over the harsh sentence against the young woman, who has also been sentenced to be flogged for adultery.
Mariam's husband is Muslim, and Sudanese law prohibits marriage between a Muslim and a non-Muslim.
Amnesty International called the ruling "abhorrent" and a flagrant breach of international human rights law. The rights group called for Mariam's immediate and unconditional release.