June 24, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – The United States on Tuesday disputed reports that a Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death for allegedly recanting her Islamic faith has been re-arrested with her family at the airport as she was trying to fly out and said that Khartoum assured her that she will be allowed safe passage.
- Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, pictured with her husband Daniel Wani on their wedding day
“[T]he State Department has been informed by the Sudanese Government that the family was temporarily detained at the airport for several hours by the government for questioning over issues related to their travel and I think travel documents. They have not been arrested,” US State department deputy speaker Marie Harf told reporters today.
“The government has assured us of their safety. The Embassy has been and will remain highly involved in working with the family and the government. We are engaging directly with Sudanese officials to secure their safe and swift departure from Sudan, and of course, we’ll provide more information as we get it,” she added.
Earlier today Mrs. Ibrahim was reportedly taken into custody by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers at Khartoum airport on Tuesday along with her husband and two children.
She was on her way to a neighbouring country en-route to the US but was informed by NISS at the airport that she was banned from travelling abroad in accordance with a public ban letter, Sudan Tribune was told.
A US embassy diplomat who was escorting Ibrahim failed to convince authorities to allow her to leave the country.
The head of Ibrahim’s defence team, Eman Hassan, stressed that NISS apprehended her client at the airport, saying she is not aware of the real reason behind her detention.
She denied that NISS detained Ibrahim and banned her from travelling abroad due to her apostasy case, underscoring that a travel ban must be issued by a court order or an order from a legal authority which does not apply to Ibrahim.
The 27-year old woman was sentenced to death last month for renouncing Islam and but was released on Monday after what the government said was "unprecedented" international pressure. An appeals court found Ibrahim not guilty on two charges of apostasy and adultery and overturned the lower tribunal’s verdict.
Her sentence has sparked international outrage, with some US senators calling on Kerry to personally intervene in the case and offer her asylum.
The NISS page on Facebook said that Ibrahim was arrested by airport immigration officers after presenting temporary travel documents issued by South Sudan embassy in Khartoum and that had a US visa stamp on it.
“This was viewed by Sudanese authorities as a criminal violation and a disregard upon which the foreign ministry summoned the US and South Sudanese envoys”.
“On the other hand a senior official Sudanese Foreign Ministry official explained that temporary travel documents are granted by states to their citizens after ensuring that the citizen has no criminal or security problem and has the seal of the interior [ministry] in the domicile of the citizen” the NISS Facebook post said.
“It is also valid only for one use, and the person would be travelling to his homeland only, but in the case of citizen Abrar [Ibrahim’s Muslim name] the document was issued by the Embassy of the state of South Sudan though she is not southerner and heading to America and it is not her homeland”.
Ibrahim’s husband is a national of South Sudan but it is not clear if immigration laws in the world’s newest country would confer citizenship upon her.
Meanwhile, legal experts and officials at Sudan’s National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) expressed to Sudan Tribune fears from the reaction of the accused woman’s family towards the court decision to free her.
According to CNN, al-Samani al-Hadi, who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother spoke Tuesday of seeking retribution, saying that Christians had tarnished his Islamic family’s honour through the case.
"The family is unconvinced by the court’s decision. We were not informed by the court that she was to be released; this came as a surprise to us," Al-Hadi said. "The law has failed to uphold our rights.
"This is now an issue of honour. The Christians have tarnished our honour, and we will know how to avenge it."
The European Union (EU) ambassador to Sudan, Tomas Ulicny, who met on Tuesday with presidential assistant, Ibrahim Ghandour, praised the decision to release Ibrahim, saying it was a victory for human rights and religious freedom advocates in Sudan and worldwide.
He said in press statements following the meeting that the EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the court decision, saying the EU calls upon Sudan to adhere to the constitution and international treaties.
Ulicny added the EU calls upon Sudanese government and other nations to cancel any legal provisions which punish individuals for changing their religion or beliefs, noting that governments must be committed to protect rights and safety of those individuals besides promoting coexistence and religious tolerance.