A mother of two young children who escaped court verdicts of flogging and death by hanging for her Christian beliefs has flown from the US embassy in Khartoum to Italy.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, her toddler son Martin, baby daughter Maya and wheelchair-bound husband Daniel were accompanied by Italian Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Lapo Pistelli during the journey. The minister posted a photo of the family on board the plane with the words, ‘mission accomplished’. It is thought that the government in Khartoum approved Meriam’s departure in advance and she travelled using a Sudanese passport suddenly issued to her.
Pope Francis later met Meriam for a half-hour meeting in his Santa Marta residence located in the Vatican and thanked her for her witness to faith.
A doctor by trade, 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 earlier this year – 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 Christian and a joint US- South Sudanese citizen. Meriam’s son Martin, also a US citizen, stayed with her in prison. Later she gave birth to Maya with her legs in chains.
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’.