Mother-of-two Meriam Ibrahim who was freed from jail after she faced Sudanese court sentences of flogging and death-by-hanging for her Christian beliefs has flown from Italy to the USA to start a new life with her family – arriving yesterday, 31 July.
The Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, greeted her in person and called her a ‘world freedom fighter’ compared to Rosa Parks who sparked the US Civil Rights movement and said people would always remember Ibrahim alongside ‘others who stood up so we could be free’. He gave Meriam a small model of the Liberty Bell, symbolising American independence.
Meriam, a doctor by trade, will settle in the New Hampshire city of Manchester where wheelchair-bound husband Daniel Wani, a US-South Sudanese citizen, has family along with their toddler son Martin and baby daughter Maya who was born in prison when her mother’s legs were chained. Daniel Wani, in tears, spoke on behalf of his family to thank people for their outpouring of support after relatives and supporters, waving balloons and singing, met them at the airport.
The family had earlier spent a week in Rome after they were released to leave Sudan. Pope Francis met them and thanked Meriam for her witness to faith. They were given a private apartment with new clothes and driven by armed police for safety.
Recalling the week in Rome, Meriam said: “We saw the whole city, we went to the Colosseum, we went to mass on Sunday, and we went shopping. We returned to life. And now I don’t know what to expect but at least we will all be together. ‘
The family’s time in Rome and new life in the USA have been a very different experience from the persecution Meriam suffered earlier this year – facing death whilst pregnant for her religious beliefs.
Meriam has always been a Christian despite her absent father’s status as a Muslim and yet a Sudanese court sentenced her to death for apostasy whilst she was pregnant with Maya.
The mother was due to be executed by hanging when her child was two-years-old. She was also given a flogging sentence for marrying Daniel, a Catholic. Meriam’s son Martin, also a US citizen, stayed with her in prison.
International outcry led to Meriam’s release but Sudanese officials detained her again when she was leaving the country at Khartoum Airport. This time she faced forgery charges related to travel documents. There was also a legal wrangle from people claiming to be her Muslim family. The US embassy accommodated the family for a month before they were allowed to leave for Italy.
The Bishop of Tambura-Yambio in South Sudan, Eduardo Hiiboro Kussala, has said Meriam’s case was not isolated and the legal situation of Christians in Sudan is ‘worrying’.