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Meriam Ibrahim gains freedom from Sudan

WASHINGTON (BP) — Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman whose death sentence caused an international outcry, arrived safely in Italy this morning (July 24).

Ibrahim, also known as Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, was flown on an Italian government jet to Rome with her husband, Daniel Wani, and two young children, Martin and Maya.

Ibrahim was arrested in February and Sudanese judge Abaas Al Khalifa set Ibrahim’s death sentence for “apostasy” (leaving Islam) May 15. However, in June, the ruling was overturned and she was released from prison only to be detained at the airport and denied permission to leave the country.

Upon arriving in Italy, the family met with the pope who “thanked her for her faith and courage, and she thanked him for his prayer and solidarity,” according to a Vatican report.

Currently, Ibrahim and her children are in a government safe house in Italy until they secure proper travel documents to enter the United States. Their case was discussed today at the State Department press briefing in Washington.

Al-Sharief Ali, Ibrahim’s attorney said, “The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release.” Lapo Pistelli, deputy foreign minister for Italy, negotiated Ibrahim’s release and accompanied the family to Italy.

“Leveraging [Italy’s] ties within the region,” Ali said Pistelli negotiated in an amicable way. “This [friendliness] paid off in the end,” he said.

“The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead,” Al Khalifa told Ibrahim on May 15 after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her. Al Khalifa had given her 15 days to recant upon announcing his original sentence April 30. Because she married a Christian, she was also sentenced to 100 lashes for apostasy.

She defended her religious beliefs by telling Al Khalifa in court, “I am a Christian, and I have never been a Muslim.”

Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father who disappeared from her life when she was 6 years old and an Ethiopian mother who was Ethiopian Orthodox. Though her mother reared her as a Christian, Islamic law asserts she is Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.

She gave birth to her daughter Maya on May 27 in a Sudanese prison for women. Her not-yet-2-year-old son also remained with his mother in prison.

She was released from prison and her court rulings were stayed on June 23. However, when attempting to leave Khartoum for South Sudan the following day, she and her husband were detained for “falsified” travel documents.

Ibrahim was staying at the U.S. embassy for her safety and was unable to leave the country until Italian intervention.

Although her release was a major advancement in her case, Tina Ramirez, executive director of Hardwired, a worldwide religious freedom advocate, said, “Meriam faces an appeal to the original sentence of death for apostasy which is now with the Supreme Court” in Sudan. Ramirez continued, “She also faces additional charges for falsifying documents and a new case filed by her [larger Muslim] family but not yet reported to her lawyers seeking to annul her marriage.”

Her lawyers continue to challenge her case.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council which had launched an online petition drive in Ibrahim’s behalf, said in a news release, “Meriam’s bold stand for Jesus Christ as she faced death is both an inspiration for Christians to be courageous, but also a reminder of the vigilance required to preserve and promote not just our First Freedom as Americans, but the basic human right of the freedom of religion. …

“The ordeal of Meriam and her family underscores the need for the Obama administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a priority at the State Department rather than an afterthought,” Perkins said. “The reality is that there are thousands of Meriams looking toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf.”
Compiled by Baptist Press intern Myriah Snyder.

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