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Sudanese Christian woman who once faced death penalty arrives in U.S.

By Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mariam Yehya Ibrahim was released from death row in Sudan
  • She was charged with apostasy after marrying Christian
  • Ibrahim was raised a Christian but court charged her because father was Mulsim
  • Her husband lives in New Hampshire

(CNN) -- A Sudanese Christian woman once sentenced to death in her native country because of her faith arrived in her new home, the United States, on Thursday.

Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, her husband and two young children were greeted by a large crowd of supporters at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire. Ibrahim, whose sentence was overturned a few weeks ago, didn't speak with the media.

Her brother-in-law, Gabriel Wani, said there was "a lot of happiness right now."

New Hampshire's senators, Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen, sent staff members to the terminal and sent out a news release welcoming Ibrahim to the state.

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"She has inspired the world with her extraordinary courage and resilience, and I join all Granite Staters in extending a warm welcome to Meriam and her family," Ayotte said.

The senators were in Washington, casting votes.

Court sentence for apostasy, marrying a Christian

Ibrahim's ordeal started when a Muslim relative filed a criminal complaint saying she had married Daniel Wani, a Christian, after going missing for several years. A Sudanese court considered Ibrahim a Muslim because her father was Muslim.

She was charged with adultery on grounds that a Muslim woman's marriage to a Christian man is illegal in Sudan. Ibrahim also was charged with apostasy, accused of illegally renouncing what was alleged to be her original faith.

She was convicted in May, while about eight months pregnant. In chains, Ibrahim gave birth about two weeks later in a women's hospital in Khartoum.

Ibrahim had been detained since mid-January. She refused to let go of her 20-month-old son, Martin, for fear she would never see him again.

Ibrahim was born to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left when she was 6 years old. She was raised by her mother as a Christian.

A court in Sudan overturned Ibrahim's death sentence a few weeks ago, but police arrested her again June 24 when she and her family tried to leave Sudan to go to the United States. Wani is an American citizen who has lived in Manchester since 1998.

New charges

Police accused her of falsifying travel documents in an attempt to fly to the United States with her family. They were taken into custody at the airport in the capital, Khartoum.

The family had been confined to a safe house in Sudan until last week, when they traveled to Italy.

Italy maintains good relations with Khartoum and offered to help the U.S. Embassy there speed up the process of getting U.S. passports for Ibrahim and her family, Italy's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli said.

Manchester -- with a population of about 110,000, the largest city in northern New England -- has long served as a resettlement site for refugees from dozens of countries who have been scattered throughout the United States by the State Department.

Since the late 1990s, more than 500 people from what is now South Sudan were resettled in New Hampshire, the majority of them in Manchester, according to refugee advocates.

CNN's Bob Crowley contributed to this report.

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