SUDAN

Sudanese Christian woman at centre of apostasy case flees to US embassy

Meriam Ishag 'in a safe location' as she seeks to leave country where she faced execution for allegedly converting to Christianity from Islam

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 June, 2014, 1:18am
AFP

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The case of a Sudanese Christian woman, whose death sentence for having converted from Islam sparked worldwide concern, has now taken a new twist, with the woman taking refuge in the US embassy in Khartoum.

The execution order was overturned on Monday and Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was freed, only to be rearrested when she attempted to fly to the US. She then faced a forgery charge over her travel documents.

When she was freed again on Thursday she fled to the American mission, her lawyer said.

"She is in the US embassy now," Mohanad Mustafa said of Ishag, 26, who has a newborn baby and whose husband is American. "She and her husband think this is a safe place for them," after receiving death threats, Mustafa said.

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".

She declined to specify further the location of Ishag, whose arrest - and potential execution - raised deep concern among human rights campaigners in the United States.

The latest charges of forgery and providing false information related to a South Sudanese travel document Ishag used to try to leave the country on Tuesday.

Ishag had been held at the police station in Khartoum's Arkawet district since Tuesday after national security agents stopped her and her family from leaving Sudan. According to her husband, Daniel Wani, diplomats from the US embassy had escorted the couple and their two children to Khartoum airport, from where they planned to travel to Washington. Wani said they "want to get out of here as soon as possible" because of the threats against his wife. But Mustafa said "there is a criminal case against her. She cannot leave Sudan."

South Sudan's embassy says Ishag is entitled to travel with documentation from that country because her husband and her children are South Sudanese dual citizens. Khartoum says she should have used a Sudanese passport to travel and on Wednesday it had summoned the chargés d'affaires of the US and South Sudan over the incident.

On May 15, a lower court judge sentenced Ishag to hang for apostasy from Islam, in a case that raised questions of religious freedom and sparked an outcry from Western governments and human rights groups.

Ishag was convicted under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death. An appeal court freed her on Monday from the women's prison where she had been detained with her children, one of whom was born in jail after she received the death sentence.

Ishag was born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother. When Ishag was five her father abandoned the family, leaving her to be raised by her mother, according to the Catholic archdiocese of Khartoum, which said she joined the church shortly before she married.