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2:33 pm
Mon June 23, 2014

Developing Story: Court In Sudan Orders Release of Condemned Woman With N.H. Ties

Credit Courtesy of Gabriel Wani

Update: CNN is reporting that Meriam Ibrahim and her husband, Daniel Wani of Manchester, were arrested at the airport in Khartoum on their way out of Sudan. Wani told the network in a phone call that he, Ibrahim and their two young children were being held at the national security office, although no details were available.

In a case closely watched in New Hampshire, a court in Sudan has ordered Meriam Ibrahim, the 27-year-old wife of a Manchester man, freed from a Khartoum prison.

Ibrahim was sentenced to death for apostasy - rejecting Islam - on May 15 and sentenced to death by hanging.

Her husband, Daniel Wani, is a Christian from Sudan who immigrated to New Hampshire in 1998 and was granted U.S. citizenship in 2005. 

Ibrahim's father was Muslim, but she was raised as a Christian by her mother, a Christian from Ethiopia, after her father left. Under sharia law, Ibrahim was considered a Muslim, prohibited from marrying a non-Muslim. 

Ibrahim was being held along with her 20 month-old son and a three week-old daughter when, according to the Associated Press, the Court of Cassation in Sudan canceled the death sentence and ordered her released.

Her lawyer Elshareef Ali told the BBC that Ibrahim has shown "extraordinary courage" since first being imprisoned in February.

"It's a victory for freedom of religion in Sudan," he said. "By Mariam's strong position, we believe that in the future no-one will be subjected to such a trial."

Ibrahim's case had drawn international condemnation. Amnesty International said the sentence was a "flagrant breach" of international human rights law, and the U.S. Department of State called on Sudan to respect Ibrahim's religious freedom.

Eric Reeves, a Smith College professor who has studied and written about Sudan extensively, told NHPR in May that the case was largely about the need for Sudanese President Omar Bashir, an Islamist who seized power in a 1989 military coup, to appear more devout than his political rivals.

Bashir's regime, he said, "doesn't want to be seen as bowing to pressure from human rights groups. But they also know to carry out the sentence at this point would be immensely counterproductive for them in their international relations."

New Hampshire's congressional delegation had urged the U.S. government to take every measure to secure Ibrahim's release. 

In a statement, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, called Ibrahim's release "overdue and welcome news."

"No man or woman anywhere should be sentenced to death by hanging for exercising the basic right of religious freedom," Shea-Porter said. "I thank colleagues on both sides of the aisle who also worked to protect Meriam’s freedom and life.”

In a joint statement U.S. Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said they would work with Wani to bring Ibrahim to the United States "quickly and safely."

“Meriam’s imprisonment and death sentence for exercising her fundamental right of religious freedom was deplorable and a gross violation of basic human rights,” Shaheen and Ayotte said. “We welcome today’s reports and we are hopeful that the Sudanese government will follow through on its announcement as quickly as possible.