Family members and religious liberty advocates are applauding the news that a Sudanese woman's death sentence for refusing to denounce her Christian faith has been overturned by an appeals court after months of international outcry.
“We are very very happy about this - and we're going to her now,” her lawyer, Elshareef Ali, told the BBC. “They have released her ... she's on her way to home.”
Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, 27, had been charged with abandoning Islam under Sudanese law. Because her father was a Muslim, Ibrahim was legally considered a Muslim even though her mother raised her as a Christian after her father left the family when she was six years old.
Despite pressure and threats of death, Ibrahim had refused to renounce her Christian faith while in prison.
Her husband, Daniel Wani, told the BBC he is looking forward to seeing his wife and wants his family to leave Sudan as soon as possible. The couple's young son Martin has lived in prison with his mother since February. Ibrahim gave birth to their second child, a baby girl, while in prison in May.
Besides the crime of apostasy – or the abandoning of the Islamic faith – Ibrahim was also charged with adultery. Her marriage to her Christian husband was not considered valid since she was considered a Muslim.
She was to receive 100 lashes for the adultery charge and was sentenced to death by hanging for apostasy.
U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who had written twice asking U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene on Ibrahim’s behalf, released a celebratory statement on the release of Ibrahim from prison:
“I am very pleased that the Sudanese court has reportedly cancelled Meriam Ibrahim’s death sentence and ordered her release. I continue to urge U.S. officials to work quickly and use all resources available to immediately provide Meriam and her family with safe haven in the United States.”
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of a congressional global human rights subcommittee, met with the Sudanese Ambassador to the U.S. on June 20 to discuss the Meriam Ibrahim case. He said releasing Ibrahim from prison was a good first step.
“But the second step is that Ms. Ibrahim and her husband and their children be on a plane and heading to the United States,” Smith said.
Ali told the BBC that Ibrahim’s courage and strong position while in prison could deter the Sudanese government from prosecuting similar cases.
“It's a victory for freedom of religion in Sudan ... By Meriam's strong position, we believe that in the future no-one will be subjected to such a trial,” he said.