- June 26, 2014
- By Fredrick Nzwili / Religion News Service
WASHINGTON (RNS)—Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian doctor sentenced to death for apostasy, was set free after an appeal court canceled the death sentence.
However, agents from the National Intelligence and Security service detained her and her family at the Khartoum airport the next day. She was arrested after she attempted to leave Sudan using South Sudan emergency papers, including a U.S. visa, according to reports.
“The Sudanese authorities considered (the action) a criminal violation,” according to a Facebook post by Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services.
Ibrahim’s lawyer, Mohamed Mostofa, said she is being charged with forging a document, an offense that could result in a five-year prison sentence under Sudan’s penal code.
When police released her later, she took refuge at the U.S. Embassy. According to Reuters, Ibrahim was released on the condition that she not attempt to leave the country.
Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Roman Catholic, had been sentenced to hang in April for abandoning her Muslim faith, triggering global outrage and condemnation, including a campaign with more than 1 million signatures.
“This clearly shows that the path of martyrdom is still there,” said Agnes Abuom, an Anglican theologian from Kenya who is the moderator of the Geneva-based World Council Churches. “It is a huge, huge testimony of encouragement for the church and Christians in Sudan, who feel they are a minority.”
Before her release, Ibrahim had continued to breastfeed her 1-month-old baby in chains at the Omdurman Women’s Prison in Khartoum, while caring for her 20-month-old son, Martin.
Many in the Muslim-majority nation held that Ibrahim, who married Daniel Bicensio Wani, an American citizen of South Sudan origin, never should have become a Christian because her father was a Muslim.
The couple was arrested in September for adultery, after men claiming to be Ibrahim’s relatives complained to authorities that she had broken Shariah, or Islamic law, by marrying a Christian man. The charges were dropped last year, but an appeal overturned the ruling, bringing in the more serious charge of apostasy.
International pressure helped bring her release, Abuom said. The churches insisted her sentence contravened the 2005 interim constitution, which allows freedom of religion, she said.
“I think Sudan felt it did not have a case against her,” Abuom said. “I think Sudan also feared the case will jeopardize its diplomatic engagements globally.”
Clerics demanded her release
In Sudan, where Christians and churches often are persecuted through arrests and frequent interrogation of church leaders, clerics had come out boldly to demand her release.
“Never in her life did she embrace the Islamic religion nor renounce it,” said Mussa Timothy Kacho, vicar general for the Khartoum Roman Catholic Archdiocese.
Her father, Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, abandoned his family when Meriam Ibrahim was 5 years old. Ibrahim never saw her father, according to the cleric, grew up under the care of her Orthodox Christian mother, Zahra Tesfai, and was admitted into the Catholic Church before she could marry her husband.
For her freedom, the courts earlier had demanded she recant her Christian faith and end the marriage to her Christian husband, but Ibrahim kept her faith and remained married.
Editor's Note: This story was updated on June 27, and the 5th paragraph was added.