June 25, 2014 (KHARTOUM) – Sudan’s foreign ministry has summoned the ambassadors of the United States and South Sudan following an attempt by a Christian woman formerly accused of apostasy to fly out of the country using travel documents issued by the embassy of South Sudan in Khartoum.
- An image taken from an undated video provided on 5 June 2014 by Al Fajer, a Sudanese NGO, shows Meriam Ibrahim breastfeeding her newborn baby girl that she gave birth to in jail in May (Photo: AP/Al Fajer)
Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death last month for renouncing Islam, 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.
However, the 27-year-old was taken into custody by National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers at Khartoum airport on Tuesday along with her husband and two children, for trying to use documents issued by the embassy of South Sudan to fly out of Khartoum.
Senior diplomatic sources told Sudan Tribune that South Sudan’s deputy ambassador to Khartoum, Kowner Mageer, acknowledged at a meeting with the foreign ministry’s deputy head of the department of bilateral relations, Mahmoud Hassan al-Amin, that his embassy issued the travel document used by Ibrahim in order to facilitate her departure.
He underscored that the move does not reflect any escalation from Juba towards Khartoum particularly as Ibrahim’s husband is from South Sudanese origins.
According to the sources, al-Amin told Mageer that his embassy’s intervention in the incident was inconsistent with the positive developments in relationship between the two countries and the spirit of cooperation between them.
The same sources also said that al-Amin expressed to the US charge d’affaires in Khartoum, Jerry Lanier, Khartoum’s outrage and condemnation of Washington’s attempt to facilitate departure of Ibrahim, considering the move a violation to the Sudanese immigration regulations and a sign of contempt to Sudanese laws.
The foreign ministry spokesperson, Abu Bakr al-Sideeg, said in press statements that his ministry informed the US diplomat that Ibrahim enjoys the full freedom to leave the country as long as she follows the required legal procedures and holds the proper identification papers.
He said the foreign ministry conveyed to the South Sudanese deputy ambassador Khartoum’s protest against issuing a temporary travel document for Ibrahim, underscoring that Ibrahim is not a citizen of South Sudan.
Al-Sideeg further added that temporary travel documents are only issued for citizens of a specific country who are present abroad in order to return to that country, saying this criterion doesn’t apply to Ibrahim.
He said the deputy ambassador promised to convey Khartoum’s protest to Juba.
The United States on Tuesday disputed reports that Ibrahim has been rearrested and said that Khartoum assured her that she will be allowed safe passage.
“The 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.
“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.
The US later acknowledged that Ibrahim had been detained over charges related to her travel documents. Harf said their diplomat in Khartoum “reaffirmed our concern that the family should be allowed to depart swiftly from Sudan; that we would work on that with them”.
Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (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,” the NISS said in a post
“On the other hand a senior official from the Sudanese foreign ministry 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.
“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,” the post added.