Latest update from Church in Chains: 1 August 2014
Early this morning (1 August), Meriam Ibrahim, together with her family, arrived in the USA where they plan to settle. The family (Meriam, her husband Daniel, toddler son Martin and baby daughter Maya) had flown from Italy where they had spent a week after being allowed to leave Sudan.
After a brief stopover in Philadelphia, the family's final destination was the city of Manchester in New Hampshire, where Meriam's husband Daniel previously lived. More than 500 people from South Sudan have settled in Manchester in recent years including Daniel's brother, Gabriel.
Gabriel was at Manchester airport together with dozens of supporters holding balloons, signs and flags. The crowd cheered as the family entered the terminal, and several women reached out to hug Meriam.
"We're just going to go and bring them home," Gabriel Wani said. "They want to come home, and they want to rest."Monyroor Teng, pastor of the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church in Manchester, said Meriam's release gives him hope. "People are really happy to receive them when they come home," he said. "It's a miracle to me. I didn't think that something like this would happen because, in Sudan, when something happens like that, it's unreal. It happens to so many people."
Daniel Wani, his face streaked with tears, briefly thanked New Hampshire's Sudanese community on his family's behalf and said he appreciated the outpouring of support during the family's ordeal arising from the sentence of death passed on Meriam in Sudan in May. Meriam had been charged with apostasy from Islam but denied the charge, stating that she had always been an Orthodox Christian. She had also been sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery (because of her marriage to Daniel, a Roman Catholic).
On June 26, Meriam Ibrahim arrived at the American Embassy in Khartoum with her husband and two small children after being released on bail from police custody. Under the bail conditions, Meriam and her family are prohibited from leaving Sudan. They were detained at Khartoum International Airport two days earlier as they sought to leave Sudan.
Meriam Ibrahim was released from prison in Khartoum on June 23 along with her 20-month-old son, Martin, and baby daughter, Maya, after the appeal court reviewing her case quashed the original verdict by which she had been sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. Consequently, the appeal court ordered her release, recognised her marriage and declared her innocent of all charges.
Meriam gave a brief interview to the BBC as she left police custody, saying: "I would like to thank the Sudanese people and the Sudanese police. I would like to thank those who stood beside me." Asked about her plans following her release, she said: "I will leave it to God."
This morning her husband, Daniel Wani, who is an American citizen, expressed relief that the family has been given refuge at the US embassy, adding that embassy staff had been "very helpful and very nice". He confirmed they had sought the embassy's protection because of death threats against his wife.
The Sudanese police have charged Meriam with forgery, due to alleged irregularities with her travel documents. She was in possession of travel documents issued by South Sudan, her husband's country of birth. He has been charged as an accessory to the alleged offences. The charges were brought by Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services, which prompted the police investigation. The South Sudanese Embassy has verified that it issued Meriam's travel documents and that they are legitimate.
A US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said: "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. From our perspective, Miriam has all of the documents she needs to travel to and enter the United States. It is up to the government of Sudan to allow her to exit the country."
Update from Church in Chains: 23rd June, 2014
Earlier today (23 June), Meriam Ibrahim was released from prison in Khartoum, along with her 20-month-old son, Martin, and baby daughter, Maya.
The appeal court reviewing her case quashed the original verdict by which she had been sentenced to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. Consequently, the appeal court ordered her release, recognised her marriage and declared her innocent of all charges.
Mohaned Mostafa, one of Meriam's legal team, said she has already been sent "to an unknown house to stay at for her protection and security. Her family had been threatened before and we are worried that someone might try to harm her."
Update from Church in Chains: 23rd May, 2014
Lawyers lodge appeal against Meriam’s death sentence
Earlier today, lawyers representing Meriam Ibrahim lodged an appeal against a court order sentencing her to death for apostasy (leaving Islam) and 100 lashes for adultery (marrying a Christian man). The appeal will delay implementation of the sentences until a judicial decision is made on the appeal.
Justice Centre Sudan, the local human rights organisation that is appealing Meriam's case, has previously said that she has been under pressure to convert to Islam with the promise to reduce or eliminate the charges. This case is the first of its kind to be heard in Sudan.
Conditions in prison
Meriam remains in Omdurman Federal Women's Prison in Khartoum with her 20-month-old son, Martin. She was visited on Monday (19 May) by her husband, Daniel Wani. Daniel, who is an American citizen, is disabled and was in the US at the time of the verdict. He married Meriam in 2011, and they run several businesses, including a farm south of Khartoum.
"I'm so frustrated. I don't know what to do," Daniel said. "I'm just praying." Daniel has spoken out about the lack of action from the US government: "Considering I am an American citizen, I am disappointed with the American Embassy's position from the beginning of the whole case. At the start, I reported it to them but they didn't take much interest, particularly the consulate. They said they didn't have time. They intervened when they saw the issue was getting press attention - but the intervention was late."
Daniel uses a wheelchair and "totally depends on Meriam for all details of his life," said Mohammed Jar Elnabi, her lawyer. Monday's visit was the first time that Daniel had been allowed to visit his wife since she was imprisoned in February. He stated that Meriam, who is eight months pregnant, was shackled and that her legs were swollen.
Mr Elnabi also revealed concerns about the condition of 20-month-old Martin: "He is very affected from being trapped inside a prison from such a young age. He is always getting sick due to lack of hygiene and bugs." The lawyer stated that Meriam is having a difficult pregnancy and that a request to send her to a private hospital was denied "due to security measures ".
Mr Elnabi also revealed that he had received a death threat for representing Meriam but stated that he would continue to do so. "I could never leave the case. This is a matter of belief and principles," he said. "I must help someone who is in need, even if it will cost me my life." Speaking of Meriam, he said, "She is very strong and firm. She is clear that she is a Christian and that she will get out one day."
Sudanese Embassy response
The Sudanese Embassy in London (accredited to Ireland) has responded to Church in Chains' letter expressing concern about the case. In the reply (a general one sent to many individuals and groups), Mr Khalid Al Mubarak, Media Counsellor at the Embassy, wrote that it would not be appropriate to comment until the case is concluded.
He went on to write: "However, I would like to assure you that the Sudan (according to our interim constitution) is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious country. We have Christians in our Cabinet and in all walks of life. Our ancestors embraced Christianity before some southern European states and we acknowledge that in our National Museum where the remnants of our old churches are preserved and displayed... Thanks again for your letter and rest assured that the human rights and religious rights of all Sudanese are treasured and well-preserved."
Widespread international condemnation
The Chargé d'Affaires at the Sudanese embassy in London, Bukhari Afandi, was summoned to the British Foreign Office last week to meet Simon Gass, the Foreign Office's political director.
The British Foreign Office said Mr Gass "expressed deep concern at the recent decision to sentence Meriam to death"and asked the Chargé d'Affaires to urge his government "to uphold its international obligations on freedom of religion or belief, and to do all it can to get this decision overturned".
A group of UN human rights experts has expressed alarm about the case. Meriam's trial did not comply with basic fair trial and due process guarantees, said the experts. "This outrageous conviction must be overturned and Ms. Ibrahim must be immediately released," urged the UN experts. They also called on the Government of Sudan to repeal all legislation that discriminates on the grounds of gender or religion, to protect the religious identity of minority groups and to embark on a comprehensive reform of the justice system in compliance with international standards.
Death sentence for Sudanese woman
(report on 21 May)
Christians in Ireland are backing protests against the death sentence for a woman who has been sentenced to death for apostasy (changing her religion) in Sudan.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, a 27-year-old doctor from western Sudan who is eight months pregnant, was sentenced to death for apostasy by a judge in Khartoum on 15 May. She was also sentenced to 100 lashes for having sex with her husband, considered adultery in Islam because he is a Christian.
Church in Chains (an Irish charity which campaigns on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world) and the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland have both written to the Sudanese ambassador accredited to Ireland (based in London) protesting against the harsh sentence.
In addition, they have written to Mr Joe Costello, Ireland's Minister for Trade and Development (Ireland sent €1 million to Sudan emergency aid in 2013).
The death sentence was originally pronounced on 11 May but Meriam was given three days in which to recant. During the court hearing on 15 May, an Islamic cleric spoke with her in a caged dock for about 30 minutes, after which she calmly told the judge: "I am a Christian and I never committed apostasy."
Three witnesses from western Sudan had travelled to the hearing to testify that Meriam had always been a Christian, but were prevented from giving evidence.
"The court has sentenced you to be hanged till you are dead," the judge told Ibrahim, who also has a 20-month-old son, Martin, after Islamist crowds shouted for the court to punish her.
"She is due to give birth any minute," said a lawyer at the Justice Centre Sudan, which is handling her case. "They will transfer her to different department to wait for her sentence. They will flog her 100 lashes as soon as she recovers from childbirth." The death sentence is not scheduled to be carried out until her unborn child is two years old.
He added, however, that lawyers plan to file an appeal of the sentence on Sunday 18 May, which would put off execution of the sentence, including the flogging, until there is a ruling.
Meriam was born to an Ethiopian Christian mother and a Sudanese Muslim father. Her father left the family when she was 6 years old and her mother raised her as a Christian. However, Islamic law asserts that she was Muslim by birth because her father was Muslim.
Meriam married her husband, Daniel Wani, a Christian from South Sudan, in 2012. The case was brought by Meriam's brother who accused her of "adultery" because of her marriage to a Christian. Daniel was accused of proselytising a Muslim, and later Meriam was accused of apostasy.
Meriam has been held in Omdurman Federal Women's Prison since February with her 20-month-old son because the authorities regard the child as a Muslim and will not allow him to be raised by his Christian father.
The case has attracted wide attention in Sudan. About 50 people chanting and holding posters stating "No to executing Meriam" were confronted outside the court by a smaller group that supported the verdict, but there was no violence.
Diplomats from the embassies of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands attended the court and later issued a joint statement expressing "deep concern" over the case. "We call upon the government of Sudan to respect the right to freedom of religion, including one's right to change one's faith or beliefs," the embassies said in their statement.
Sudan's Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman insisted that Sudan is not unique in its law against apostasy. "In Saudi Arabia, in all the Muslim countries, it is not allowed at all for a Muslim to change his religion," he said.
Following the secession of South Sudan in 2011, President Omar al-Bashir has vowed to make Sudan a fully Islamic state. Government intimidation and harassment has forced hundreds of thousands of Christians of South Sudanese origin out of Sudan. Persecution of Christians includes arrest, interrogation and detention without charge, demolition of churches, closure of Christian institutions, confiscation of Christian literature and deportation of foreign Christian workers