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Sudanese woman freed from prison after court ruling

Published: Monday, June 23 2014 11:05 a.m. MDT

Meriam Yehya Ibrahim is seen with her husband, Daniel Wani. Ibrahim was in prison for "apostasy" but was released from all charges.

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Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old Sudanese Christian mother convicted of apostasy and sentenced to death because her father was Muslim, has been freed from death row and has left prison, several international news agencies report.

Word first came via Sudan's official news agency SUNA, according to the Associated Press, that Ibrahim had her sentence "canceled" by the Court of Cassation in Khartoum, Sudan's capital. She faced 100 lashes and then hanging for having refused to renounce Christianity, even though Ibrahim said it was the only religion she had ever known.

“ ‘The appeal court ordered the release of Mariam Yahya and the cancellation of the (previous) court ruling,’ ” London's Daily Mail quoted SUNA as reporting.

Ibrahim is married to Daniel Wani, an American citizen who is also a Christian. They have a son, Martin, whose age is given as 18 or 20 months in news reports, and Maya, a month-old daughter. Both children have been in prison with Ibrahim, who gave birth while shackled, reports indicate.

Ibrahim's father, who apparently left the family when she was 6, was Muslim; her mother was Ethiopian Orthodox Christian. Both parents were reported to have passed away, and other siblings are believed to have brought the "apostasy" charges against her.

The Sudanese court ruling appears to have turned on a June 11 statement by the Catholic Church of Khartoum stating Ibrahim had been married in that church in December 2011 and suggesting that "alleged family members" had wanted to gain access to Ibrahim's business interests, according to an emailed news release from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which works for religious freedom and human rights. The group also reported Ibrahim's current and former attorneys faced death threats and other pressure over their defense of the woman.

"We are delighted to hear that Mrs. Ibrahim and her children have been released into the care of her husband and that the unjust, inhumane and unwarranted sentences have been annulled," CSW’s Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said in a statement. "However, we remain appalled by the threats and hate speech that (have) been aired seemingly unhindered against Mrs. Ibrahim and her lawyers and urge the international community to hold the Sudanese authorities to account for her safety and that of her lawyers."

Faith J. Hooper McDonnell, religious liberty programs director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an email to the Deseret News, said, "I am very happy to hear the news that Meriam Ibrahim has not only been released, but her marriage to Daniel Wani has been recognized. … The United States government must do what it should have done long ago — verify the U.S. citizenship of Meriam and Daniel's children, Martin and Maya, and provide a spousal visa for Meriam so that they can come to America with Daniel."

McDonnell, who also directs the IRD's Church Alliance for a New Sudan, said there are "thousands of Meriams not in a jail cell, but in the self-imposed prison of Nuba Mountain caves — trying to escape from the government of Sudan's bombing."

Meriam's release from jail in Khartoum comes less than a month after Sudan's embassy in Washington, D.C., issued a defiant statement defending her earlier trial and conviction, declaring the case remained "a legal issue and not a religious or a political one."

Reports of Ibrahim's release came after a worldwide outpouring of support, online and in person, seeking her freedom. Among her supporters was British Prime Minister David Cameron, who said last month, "The way (Ibrahim) is being treated is barbaric and has no place in today's world."

Email: mkellner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @Mark_Kellner

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