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Freed woman arrested trying to leave Sudan
Publish Date: Jun 24, 2014
Freed woman arrested trying to leave Sudan
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, a 27-year-old Christian Sudanese woman sentenced to hang for apostasy, sitting in her cell a day after she gave birth to a baby girl at a womens prison in Khartoums twin city of Omdurman. AFP Photo/STR
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A Sudanese Christian woman was arrested Tuesday at Khartoum airport a day after a court annulled her death sentence for apostasy and released her from prison, a source familiar with the incident said.

"The National Security took her and Daniel," said the source, referring to Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, and her American husband Daniel Wani.

The status of their two young children, one a baby born in prison before Ishag's release, was not immediately known.

The couple were detained, for reasons that are unclear, at about 1100 GMT as they tried to leave Sudan, said the source.

"She has the right to leave the country," the source said.

He could not give more details except to say they were taken to a facility of the powerful National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS).

Information Minister Ahmed Bilal Osman told AFP he was not familiar with the latest developments and could not comment.

Ishag's case sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups after a lower-court judge sentenced her to death on May 15.

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

When Ishag was five, her father abandoned the family, and she was raised according to her mother's faith.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum said she joined the Catholic church shortly before she married.

"She has never been a Muslim in her life," a statement said.

Fears for her life

After the appeal courts quashed the earlier verdict, Ishag went into hiding fearing for her life because of death threats, one of her lawyers said.

"She is in a safe place. I will not tell you where," Mohanad Mustafa told AFP on Monday night.

"The main reason is that we are concerned about her life."

He and other members of Ishag's legal team have also been threatened.

Ishag and Wani were detained at roughly the same time the United Nations independent expert on human rights in Sudan, Mashood Adebayo Baderin, held a press conference in Khartoum.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag (seated C), poses for a picture with her husband Daniel Wani, her new-born baby and the couple's 20-month-old son, one of her lawyers Mohanad Mustafa (R), and other members of the legal team at an undisclosed location in Khartoum on June 23, 2014. AFP Photo/Ho

He said that if she had received death threats, "as a citizen of this country, the Sudan has a duty to protect its citizens."

Baderin, who visited Ishag in prison, agreed that the case "raises important legal questions about the right to freedom of religion and belief."

Twelve days after the lower court issued its death sentence, Ishag gave birth to her baby daughter at the women's prison in Khartoum's twin city of Omdurman, where she was shackled during pregnancy, Mustafa said.

Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said the group was delighted that "the unjust, inhumane and unwarranted sentences have been annulled."

But he said the British-based group, which works for religious freedom, was appalled at the "threats and hate speech."

"Her alleged brother has publicly stated the family would carry out the death sentence should the court acquit her," CSW said.

Muslim extremist groups had lobbied the Islamist government over Ishag's case, prominent newspaper editor Khalid Tigani has said.

Amnesty International said she was released under international pressure, but Rabbie Abdelatti Ebaid, a senior official in Sudan's ruling National Congress Party, denied that.

Muslim scholars have divergent opinions on the issue of changing religion, and "jurisprudence in Islam is very broad," allowing for a solution, he told AFP.

The United States welcomed the decision to free Ishag but State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf urged Khartoum to repeal its draconian laws against religious conversion.

Canada's ambassador for religious freedom, Andrew Bennett, said that by freeing Ishag authorities "served justice and demonstrated compassion."

AFP

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