June 6, 2013 (KHARTOUM) – The US state department this week refused to be drawn on whether the children of a Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to death on apostasy charges would be eligible for US citizenship.
- Meriam Yehya Ibrahim pictured inside Omdurman’s Women’s Prison with her two children, Martin (L) and newborn baby daughter, Maya
In an at times combative exchange with a journalist at a press briefing in Washington on Thursday, deputy spokesperson Marie Harf declined to comment on whether the government had taken steps to verify the authenticity of birth and marriage certificates submitted by Meriam Yahya Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, a South Sudanese-born US citizen.
Ibrahim was sentenced to death by hanging by a Sudanese court on 15 May after refusing to recant her faith and return to Islam.
She was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to 100 lashes as her marriage to a Christian man is considered invalid under Sudan’s Islamic Shari’a law.
Ibrahim, who has been incarcerated with her 20-month-old son Martin since January, gave birth to a baby daughter, Maya, in Omdurman prison just over a week ago. As a Christian, Wani is not able to legally claim custody of his children.
Under US law the children of US citizens are automatically entitled to citizenship regardless of where they are born.
However, the US government has yet to formally recognise the citizenship of Martin Wani and it remains unclear whether Maya will be eligible.
In comments earlier this week, state department spokesperson Jen Psaki indicated that under US regulations the department is authorised to seek DNA testing in citizenship claims to verify a biological relationship.
In media comments Wani said that he had been upset by US demands for a paternity test, saying he felt abandoned by US authorities.
At Thursday’s press briefing a journalist asked Harf whether the US government had any reason to doubt the authenticity of documents supplied to the US embassy in Khartoum showing Wani and Ibrahim were married on 19 December 2011 at the Catholic Church in Khartoum, with their son, Martin, born 11 months later.
The documents cited by the journalist were obtained through the Christian Solidarity Worldwide and purportedly show the couple’s marriage was certified by the Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum, while Martin’s birth certificate bears the name and signature of the Sudanese government official that issued it.
Harf maintained she was not aware of any supporting documents submitted by Wani in support of his citizenship claim on behalf of his son and also refused to comment on any specifics of the application, despite Wani signing a privacy waiver, allowing US officials to discuss his case publicly.
“I am not going to comment on the specifics of any adjudication that’s happening in this case. I am just not going to comment on what’s happening on the ground,” said Harf, who described the case as “complicated”.
“Someone signing a Privacy Act waiver does not necessarily mean that we discuss all the details of their case. If you were overseas and we were adjudicating something that was private to you, I think that people recognise, quite frankly, that there are some details we don’t discuss,” she said in later comments.
Harf also declined to comment on whether the documents submitted by Wani validating the marriage and birth of their son voided the need for a paternity test.
“Our consular officers have a responsibility to look at any information they deem necessary to determine US citizenship, which I think we would all argue is important,” she said.
Ibrahim’s case has sparked international outrage, with growing calls for her unconditional release.
US senators last month urged secretary of state John Kerry to personally intervene in the case and offer Ibrahim political asylum in the US.
The United Nations human rights experts described the conviction as “outrageous”, saying the right to marry and start a family was a fundamental human right, while UK prime minister David Cameron has described the sentence as “barbaric”.
Ibrahim’s plight has also galvanised public support, with a petition by Amnesty International calling for Ibrahim’s release attracting more than 750,000 signatures worldwide, while a dedicated Free Mariam Yahya Ibrahim Facebook page has more than 13,300 supporters.
Media reports circulated earlier this month that Ibrahim’s release was imminent were later discounted by Sudanese authorities.
Ibrahim’s legal team have since launched an appeal against the sentence and have indicated they would explore all avenues. If upheld, Ibrahim’s execution would be carried out within the next two years after her baby is fully weaned. According to US-based campaign group Justice Centre Sudan, Ibrahim’s sentence of 100 lashes, however, could be carried out within two weeks unless she is granted a reprieve.
Harf confirmed at the briefing that Wani was continuing to receive US consular assistance and that officials last met with him on Monday.
Twenty-seven-year-old Ibrahim was born to a Christian Ethiopian mother and a Sudanese Muslim father who was largely absent from her childhood.
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