Meriam Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who gave birth in a Khartoum prison after being sentenced to death in May for allegedly converting from Islam to Christianity, has been freed.
Ibrahim, 27, refused to renounce her Christian faith in court in May, prompting a judge to sentence her to hang for apostasy. The case became an international cause, with several U.S. lawmakers and the State Department blasting the decision as barbaric. Sudan’s national news service SUNA said the Court of Cassation in Khartoum on Monday canceled the death sentence after defense lawyers presented their case, and that the court ordered her release.
“We are happy that Meriam is finally released,” said Al-Sharif Ali, a member of her legal team. “One thing I can say is that Meriam’s strong personality forced the Sudanese judiciary to respect religious freedom.”
Tina Ramirez, executive director for the Christian advocacy group Hardwired, which promoted Ibrahim’s cause, said Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir bowed to immense public pressure and forced the court’s hand.
“We are witnessing a historic moment – in the three decades of President Bashir’s brutal dictatorship millions have lost their lives, yet here stands one defenseless and innocent young pregnant woman who forced President Bashir to respect her dignity and religious freedom.”
Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, holds dual U.S.-Sudanese citizenship, and Ibrahim’s supporters argued that their children, including a daughter named Maya born in prison in May and a 20-month-old boy named Martin who was imprisoned with her, are U.S. citizens.
Sources close to the situation tell FoxNews.com that Ibrahim was whisked away to a confidential location and that her lawyers will be meeting with representatives from the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday.
“We obviously welcome the decision by the Sudanese Appeals Court to order the release of Ms. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “Her case has rightly drawn the attention of the world and has been of deep concern to the United States government and many of our citizens and their representatives in Congress.”
“This is a huge first step,” added Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organization Subcommittee. “But the second step is that Ms. Ibrahim and her husband and their children be on a plane heading to the United States.”
Ibrahim and Wani were married in a formal ceremony in 2011 and operate several businesses, including a farm, south of Khartoum, the country’s capital.
Wani fled to the United States as a child to escape the civil war in southern Sudan, but later returned. He is not permitted to have custody of his son because the boy is considered Muslim and cannot be raised by a Christian man.
Ibrahim’s case first came to the attention of authorities in August, after members of her father’s family complained that she was born a Muslim but married a Christian man. The relatives claimed her birth name was “Afdal” before she changed it to Meriam and produced a document that indicated she was given a Muslim name at birth. Her attorney has alleged the document was a fake.
Ibrahim says her mother was an Ethiopian Christian and her father a Muslim who abandoned the family when she was a child. Ibrahim was initially charged with having illegitimate sex last year, but she remained free pending trial. She was later charged with apostasy and jailed in February after she declared in court that Christianity was the only religion she knew.
“I was never a Muslim,” she told the Sudanese high court. “I was raised a Christian from the start.”
Sudan’s penal code criminalizes the conversion of Muslims to other religions, which is punishable by death. Muslim women in Sudan are further prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, although Muslim men are permitted to marry outside their faith. Children, by law, must follow their father’s religion.
The American Center for Law and Justice, which gathered some 320,000 signatures in an online petition for Ibrahim, praised the decision but called for the U.S. to help her.
“Her release from a Sudanese prison is a critical step toward securing her freedom and safety,” said ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow. “We now call on the Obama Administration to examine all possibilities to ensure that Meriam and her two American children are granted safe passage and immediate legal status in the United States.”