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Woman Accused of Apostasy In Sudan Escapes to Italy
by Tina Ramirez
Pope meets accused woman from Sudan
Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, the young mother sentenced to death by a Sudanese court for her refusal to renounce her Christian faith, traveled to Italy early July 24 with her husband Daniel Wani, their 20-month old son, Martin, and four-week old daughter, Maya, who was delivered in prison. [The Vatican announced that Pope Francis met the persecuted mother and her family later the same day.] They were reported to be living in a government safe house in Italy until they obtain the proper travel documents to come to the United States.

According to Meriam's lawyer, Al-Sharief Ali, "The Italians had the greatest influence on Sudan and were able to secure her release."  Deputy Foreign Minister for Italy, Lapo Pistelli, flew to Sudan to negotiate the release and accompanied Meriam and her family to safety on July 24th. According to Ramirez, "Italy has been a recurring safe-haven for apostates and others seeking religious freedom over the years." 

Charges against Meriam remain in Sudan and it is unclear whether the cases will now be dismissed.  Meriam faces an appeal to the original sentence of death for apostasy which is now with the Supreme Court.  She also faces additional charges for falsifying documents and a new case filed by her family but not yet reported to her lawyers seeking to annul her marriage. 

Al-Sharief Ali told Hardwired, "We will continue to challenge the case at the Supreme Court and seek a decision that recognizes the apostasy law as inconsistent with international law and the Sudanese Constitution so no one else is harmed by these kind of charges."

Mariem was sentenced to death for apostasy - i.e., changing one's religion - and to 100 lashes for adultery on May 15, 2014.  Her crime?  She was born to a Muslim father and Christian mother and despite being raised as a Christian was accused of converting to Christianity which is against Article 126 of the Sudanese Criminal Law of 1991.  Moreover, according to the Sudanese Family Law for Muslims of 1991, it is illegal for her to marry a Christian man if she were a Muslim, as accused.

Mariem was held in shackles at Omdurman Prison beginning May 15th, where she was forced to give birth to daughter, Maya, on May 25th in the health clinic's unsanitary environment.  The British Embassy coordinated several meetings among the concerned embassies with Meriam's lawyers throughout the case, while others provided what assistance they could, including an air conditioning unit from the Canadian Embassy. 

The charges were dismissed  on June 23rd, but as Meriam prepared to leave the country on documents from South Sudan arranged by the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, she and Daniel were held and charged with carrying falsified documents.  After being released, she was kept at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum while her family appealed the case and filed new charges against her.

Meriam's case continues at the Supreme Court and while the criminal punishments for adultery and apostasy remain a threat to many others.
Tina Ramirez is the executive director of Hardwired, a non-profit organization working to end religious oppression worldwide.