KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) -- A Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy was freed Monday by a Khartoum court, and has rejoined her Christian husband with their two young children, her lawyer and state media said.
State news agency SUNA said the Court of Cassation threw out the death sentence against 27-year-old Meriam Ibrahim after defense lawyers presented their case. Her lawyer, Eman Abdul-Rahim, told The Associated Press that Ibrahim left prison and was with her husband. Her 18-month-old son, Martin, had been with her in jail, where she gave birth last month to a second child.
Ibrahim, whose father was Muslim but who was raised by her Christian mother, was convicted of apostasy for marrying a Christian. Sudan's penal code forbids Muslims from converting to other religions, a crime punishable by death.
Ibrahim married a Christian man from southern Sudan in a church ceremony in 2011. As in many Muslim nations, Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, though Muslim men can marry outside their faith. By law, children must follow their father's religion.
The sentence drew international condemnation, with Amnesty International calling it "abhorrent." The U.S. State Department said it was "deeply disturbed" by the sentence and called on the Sudanese government to respect religious freedoms.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, who had met with the Sudanese Ambassador to discuss Ibrahim's case, described the release as "a huge first step."
"But the second step is that Ms. Ibrahim and her husband and their children be on a plane heading to the United States," he added. It's not clear whether Ibrahim had planned to travel to the United States.
Sudan introduced Islamic Shariah law in the early 1980s under the rule of autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri, contributing to the resumption of an insurgency in the mostly animist and Christian south of Sudan. The south seceded in 2011 to become the world's newest nation, South Sudan.
Sudanese President Omar Bashir, an Islamist who seized power in a 1989 military coup, has said his country will implement Islam more strictly now that the non-Muslim south is gone.
A number of Sudanese have been convicted of apostasy in recent years, but they all escaped execution by recanting their new faith.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, praised the decision to free Ibrahim and called on the government to repeal the laws to help demonstrate to the Sudanese people that their government intends to respect their fundamental freedoms and universal human rights."
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.