By Harriet Alexander / Telegraph.co.uk
The Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy while pregnant has finally been freed, and was on Monday night reunited with her family after spending six months behind bars.
Meriam Ibrahim, 27, walked out of prison in Khartoum on Monday afternoon and was taken to an undisclosed safe house for her own protection. In Sudan, where Sharia law is implemented, leaving the Islamic faith is a crime punishable by death – and earlier this month her own brother called for the sentence to be carried out.
“Her family had been threatened before and we are worried that someone might try to harm her,” said Mohaned Mostafa, one of her team of lawyers.
Her release was announced on Monday by Sudanese state media, which said that the Supreme Court had overturned the verdict and she was to be freed.
As soon as he heard the news on the radio, Elshareef Ali Mohammed, another of her lawyers, rushed to the Omdurman women’s prison to see whether the news was true.
Hopes of her release had been raised – then dashed – before: a similar claim, on May 31, was quickly proved false.
“We are going to the prison now to find out more details,” said Mr Elshareef. He told The Telegraph: “We heard it just now on the state radio. We really hope it’s true.”
This time, it was, Mr Mostafa confirmed later.
Ms Ibrahim’s case was first highlighted by The Telegraph when she was sentenced on May 15. Having detained her since December, the court in Khartoum ruled that she should receive 100 lashes for “adultery” – because it did not recognise her Christian marriage to American citizen Daniel Wani – and then to hang for refusing to “return” to Islam. But Ms Ibrahim, who was born in eastern Sudan, close to the Ethiopian border, told the court that she had been raised a Christian, by her Ethiopian Christian mother. Her Muslim father left the family when she was six.
Less than a fortnight after she was sentenced, she gave birth to a daughter, Maya – with the authorities keeping her legs shackled for the birth.
Her toddler son, Martin, almost two, was also in prison with his mother.
The judge ruled that Ms Ibrahim would not be executed for two years after the birth of the baby – but her husband and legal team were desperately hoping that the verdict would be overruled before then. Yet he told The Telegraph she was refusing to recant her Christian beliefs – despite the death sentence.
“She is not going to renounce her religion, though,” he said. “She told me that.”
He said that they told her that the world was talking about her plight.
“We let her know,” he said. “She really appreciates that and is thanking people. She wants people to support her and pressure the government to reverse the sentence.”
The case caused outrage around the world. David Cameron, John Kerry and Hillary Clinton all called for her release, and a petition to secure her freedom gathered over 700,000 signatures. Tony Blair called the case a “brutal and sickening distortion of faith”.
On Tuesday the court was due to confirm her official release.
Her next move was not clear.
Mr Wani, who lives in the town of Manchester in New Hampshire, had been trying to secure his wife’s move to the United States when she was imprisoned.
Last week he said that the family would leave Sudan as soon as she was free.
Ms Ibrahim was the head of a series of successful small businesses in Sudan – and some even suggested that she could have been denounced to the authorities as part of a plot to gain control over her affairs.
Father Mussa Timothy Kacho, episcopal vicar for Khartoum, said the case was brought about in the autumn by “a group of men who claim to be Meriam’s relatives”.
In fact, she had never seen those men before, the statement added.
Mr Wani’s brother Gabriel said that he had seen the reports of her release but had not been able to speak to his brother to confirm them or find out Meriam’s condition.
“It’s very good news,” he added. “We just want to be able to get her to the U.S after all she’s been through.”
He said he was “very hopeful” that she would be granted permission to come to the U.S.
New Hampshire’s two senators this month introduced legislation to grant Ms Ibrahim and her two children permanent legal status in the U.S.