Khartoum (AFP) – The husband of a Sudanese Christian woman facing threats after her apostasy death sentence was overturned expressed relief on Friday that the family has been given refuge at the US embassy.
“Really, it’s good,” Daniel Wani, the American husband of Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, told AFP by telephone, adding that embassy staff have been “very helpful and very nice.”
He said his wife and two children, who could be heard in the background, are doing well at the heavily-guarded facility on the outskirts of Khartoum.
The couple’s baby daughter was born in prison shortly after Ishag was sentenced to death.
Wani confirmed that they have sought the embassy’s protection because of death threats against his wife.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Ishag and her family were “in a safe location” and Sudan’s government “has assured us of the family’s continued safety.”
Citing privacy considerations, she declined to specify further the location of Ishag, whose arrest — and potential execution — raised deep concern among Western governments and human rights activists.
One of Ishag’s lawyers, Mohanad Mustafa, told AFP late Thursday that the family had gone to the US mission after her release from a police station where she had been held since security agents stopped them from travelling to the United States on Tuesday.
The family think the embassy “is a safe place for them,” Musfafa said.
Ishag is charged with forgery and providing false information in relation to a South Sudanese travel document she used to try to leave the country, a day after an appeal court overturned her apostasy conviction and released her from prison.
Following her release, she immediately went into hiding at another location because of the threats to her life.
Christian activists say her “alleged brother” stated that the family would carry out the death sentence if she were acquitted.
– Family ‘want to get out’ –
Ishag was born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother.
Her father abandoned the family when Ishag was five, leaving her to be raised by her mother, according to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum, which said she joined the Catholic church shortly before she married.
On May 15, a court convicted Ishag under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.
Sudanese government officials could not be immediately reached to comment on the family’s decision to seek safety at the embassy.
Khartoum on Wednesday summoned the charges d’affaires of Washington and Juba over Ishag’s travel documents.
Sudan’s foreign ministry criticised South Sudan’s issuing of the travel permit, “despite their knowledge that she is a Sudanese national”, while condemning the US for trying to help the woman leave Sudan via an “illegal (false) travel document,” the SUNA news agency said.
Sudan says Ishag should have used a Sudanese passport, but her lawyer said she does not have one.
Kau Nak, South Sudan’s charge d’affaires, said Ishag was entitled to the travel document because her husband and children are South Sudanese.
The family “want to get out of here as soon as possible” because of the death threats, Wani said on Wednesday.
They do not expect to stay long at the embassy, he said on Friday, but the lawyer, Mustafa, said “there is a criminal case against her. She cannot leave Sudan.”
Will Stevens, spokesman for the US State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, told AFP on Friday the United States is in contact with Sudan’s Foreign Ministry “to ensure that Ms Ishag and her family will be free to travel as quickly as possible.
“Ms Ishag has all the necessary documents to travel to and enter the United States as soon as the government of Sudan permits her to leave Sudan,” Stevens said.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]