KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A Sudanese Christian woman whose death sentence for apostasy was overturned was freed again on Thursday after being detained on accusations of forging travel documents.
Wearing a traditional white and green dress, Meriam Ibrahim, 27, walked out of a Khartoum police station carrying her newborn baby hours after lawyers said she was ordered released. Ibrahim and her husband, who is disabled and was seen being carried by two men, got into a vehicle with their other child and sped away, followed by police cars and two vehicles with diplomatic plates.
Earlier, Ibrahim’s lawyer Eman Abdul-Rahman told the Associated Press that she had been released after foreign diplomats pressed the government to free her. However, Abdul-Rahman later said that Ibrahim had been granted release but had not physically left the police station, adding that her initial account was based on what Ibrahim had told her over the phone earlier in the day.
Ibrahim was sentenced to death over charges of apostasy. A daughter of a Muslim father, Ibrahim was raised by her Christian mother. She married a Christian man, Daniel Wani, who holds American citizenship and is from South 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.
Sudan’s penal code forbids Muslims from converting to other religions, a crime punishable by death. The court in the capital, Khartoum, had also ordered that Ibrahim be given 100 lashes for having sexual relations with her husband.
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.
Amid an international outcry against the sentence, Ibrahim was acquitted by Sudan’s Court of Cassation and freed Monday.
However, she was detained the following day along with her family when they tried to leave Khartoum’s airport en route to the United States with what authorities described as forged travel documents. On Wednesday, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said that it summoned South Sudan diplomats to protest the issuing of travel documents to Ibrahim, who has Sudanese citizenship.
Earlier on Thursday, the U.S. State Department said it was a “very fluid situation” and it couldn’t confirm whether Ibrahim had 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,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters in Washington. “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.”
Sudan introduced Islamic Shariah laws in the early 1980s under the rule of autocrat Jaafar Nimeiri, a move that contributed 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.
Wani, Ibrahim’s husband, was granted U.S. citizenship when he fled to the United States as a child to escape the civil war, but he later returned.
Sudanese President Omar Bashir, an Islamist who seized power in a 1989 military coup, says 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. Religious thinker and politician Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a critic of Nimeiri and his interpretation of Shariah, was sentenced to death after his conviction of apostasy. He was executed in 1985 at the age of 76.
Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August, when members of her father’s family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. She insists she was never a Muslim, but was raised as a Christian from the beginning.