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Sudanese Christian reported free, still in Sudan

KHARTOUM, Sudan (BP) — The Sudanese Christian who was freed from death row earlier this week still is not permitted to leave Sudan. But some media reports indicate she has been released from police custody after being charged with obtaining a false travel document and giving false information to immigration officials.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, 27, was detained by a group of 40 Sudanese officials Tuesday (June 24) at the airport in Khartoum as she tried to travel to South Sudan then the United States with her family, the Daily Mail reported. Her husband Daniel Wani, an American citizen, and two children — Martin, 20 months, and Maya, one month — were also detained. Wani was labelled an accessory to Ibrahim’s crimes, CNN reported.

If convicted of the new charges, Ibrahim could face up to seven years in prison, the Daily Mail said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said at a midday press briefing today (June 26) that she could not confirm reports Ibrahim has been released from custody. From the American government’s perspective, “Meriam has all of the documents she needs to travel to and enter the United States,” Harf said.

“Before I came out [to give the briefing], it was our understanding that she was still at the police station, which was where she was being held this morning D.C. time,” Harf said. “Again, very fluid situation, so I can’t confirm these reports that she has been released. We are in communication with the Sudanese foreign ministry to ensure that she and her family will be free to travel as quickly as possible.”

Harf said June 25 that U.S. officials visited Ibrahim while she was in custody and supplied her with personal items. The Sudanese government has “assured” the U.S. that Ibrahim and her family will be kept safe, and the U.S. has told Sudan it wants the family to leave the country as quickly as possible, Harf said.

Sudanese authorities said Ibrahim was detained for having a U.S. visa on illegitimate South Sudanese travel documents. Harf would not comment on the specific documents in Ibrahim’s possession but said American officials do not grant visas to individuals with invalid passports.

Ibrahim and her family “need to be able to depart Sudan swiftly,” Harf said. “I don’t have any more details on what their travel will look like. But we clearly care about this very deeply and have raised it at the highest levels, and are working very hard to resolve it.”

NBC News reported that Ibrahim’s Muslim brother told police Wani had “kidnapped” her with plans to take her to America against her will — a possible contributing factor to her arrest. The brother, Al Samani Al Hadi Mohamed Abdullah, complained that her Muslim family should have been notified of her release from death row instead of her Christian husband, NBC said.

The report of a troublesome Muslim family member aligns with earlier suggestions that Ibrahim’s original charge of apostasy stemmed from family fighting over religion.

In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called on President Obama to help Ibrahim.

“I would humbly call upon President Obama to speak out for Meriam,” Cruz said June 25. “There is no one who has a bully pulpit like the president of the United States. This is a case that cries for presidential leadership. Her husband is an American from New Hampshire. Her babies are Americans, and this is a grotesque example of religious persecution.”

Cruz asked everyone watching his speech to pray for Ibrahim and said he supports legislation providing “immediate relief for Meriam to allow her to come to America.” Cruz also spoke of Ibrahim’s uncompromising stand for Christ.

Being a Christian “is Meriam’s only crime in Sudan, and for that crime she was sentenced to be tortured and executed,” Cruz said. “Meriam was told by the government of Sudan that if she would merely renounce Jesus Christ, she would be spared that horrible sentence. But Meriam told her captors that she would not and could not renounce Christ.”

Ibrahim gained her initial freedom after a Sudanese appeals court overturned a death sentence she received for refusing to abandon her Christian faith, Bloomberg News reported. Ibrahim, whose conviction and death sentence were greeted by international protests, was convicted under Sharia law of “apostasy” (leaving Islam) and sentenced to death by hanging. She also received a sentence of 100 lashes for adultery on the basis of her marriage to a Christian.

Ibrahim gave birth to the couple’s second child May 27 in the Omdurman Federal Prison for Women in Khartoum. Their 20-month-old son had been imprisoned with his mother since February.
Compiled by David Roach, chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).

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