Just a day after a Capitol Hill hearing highlighting her case, a Sudanese woman flew to Italy early Thursday, escaping a possible death sentence in her native land for refusing to renounce her Christian faith.
Meriam Ibrahim, whose plight attracted international attention, arrived safely in Rome with her family on Thursday morning after spending more than a month of refuge at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan, after being unexpectedly allowed to leave the country by Sudanese officials.
The 27-year-old mother had been jailed and sentenced to death while pregnant for refusing to recant her Christian beliefs. Upon her arrival in Rome, Ms. Ibrahim met with Pope Francis at his Vatican residence, the BBC reported.
Lawmakers who participated in the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Wednesday called her release a victory for religious liberty.
“We are deeply appreciative to the government of Italy, as well as Pope Francis, for the role they played in helping to bring this nightmare to a successful conclusion,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, who chaired Wednesday’s hearing. “We are delighted Meriam and family will be making their home in the United States and look forward to working with them to advance religious rights and freedoms worldwide.”
Sudanese officials convicted Ms. Ibrahim of apostasy in May and sentenced her to death while heavily pregnant with her second child. She gave birth while jailed in a Khartoum prison. Though the conviction was lifted in June after international attention to her situation increased, she was arrested again at the Khartoum airport for attempting to leave the United States with her American husband and her two children, after officials charged that her travel documents were fake.
Apostasy in Sudan, which operates under a strict interpretation of Islamic Shariah law, is punishable by death. Though Ms. Ibrahim was raised as a Christian by her mother, the Sudanese government found her guilty of “renouncing” her Islamic religion because her estranged father is a Muslim. She was also convicted of adultery for marrying a Christian man because Shariah law does not recognize her marriage.
A State Department official said government officials in Italy and Sudan worked with the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum to arrange for Ms. Ibrahim and her family’s departure, and the family has the appropriate travel documents to enter the United States.
A lawsuit blocking Ms. Ibrahim from leaving the country was dropped on Wednesday before its first scheduled hearing in Khartoum Family Court on Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported. The lawsuit by her Muslim father would have established Ms. Ibrahim as his Muslim daughter.
Lapo Pistelli, Italy’s vice-minister for foreign affairs, accompanied Ms. Ibrahim on the flight from Khartoum to Rome, posting photos to social media during their travels.
“This is a great joy. Today, thanks to the efforts of many, we are able to welcome Meriam to Rome,” Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini said in a statement.
Ms. Ibrahim’s plight attracted broad support in the United States, including from conservative Christian groups.
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who testified at Wednesday’s House hearing, said he hoped Ms. Ibrahim’s successful transfer would encourage the administration to pay better attention to cases of religious persecution both at home and abroad.
“The ordeal of Meriam and her family underscore the need for the Obama administration to make the promotion of religious freedom a priority at the State Department rather than an afterthought,” he said. “The reality is that there are thousands of Meriam’s looking toward America, hoping they are not forgotten and that someone will speak out on their behalf.”