Sudan 'apostasy' woman Meriam Yahia Ibrahim meets Pope

  • 24 July 2014
  • From the section Africa

A Sudanese woman who fled to Italy after being spared a death sentence for renouncing Islam has met the Pope.

Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag flew to Rome with her family after more than a month in the US embassy in Khartoum.

There was global condemnation when she was sentenced to hang for apostasy by a Sudanese court.

Mrs Ibrahim's father is Muslim so according to Sudan's version of Islamic law she is also Muslim and cannot convert.

She was raised by her Christian mother and says she has never been Muslim.

Welcoming her at the airport, Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said: "Today is a day of celebration."

Mrs Ibrahim met Pope Francis at his Santa Marta residence at the Vatican soon after her arrival.

"The Pope thanked her for her witness to faith," Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi was quoted as saying.

The meeting, which lasted around half an hour, was intended to show "closeness and solidarity for all those who suffer for their faith," he added.

'Mission accomplished'

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Rome says there was no prior indication of Italy's involvement in the case.

Lapo Pistelli, Italy's vice-minister for foreign affairs, accompanied her on the flight from Khartoum and posted a photo of himself with Mrs Ibrahim and her children on his Facebook account as they were about to land in Rome.

"Mission accomplished," he wrote.

A senior Sudanese official told Reuters news agency that the government in Khartoum had approved her departure in advance.

Mrs Ibrahim's lawyer Mohamed Mostafa Nour told BBC Focus on Africa that she travelled on a Sudanese passport she received at the last minute.

"She is unhappy to leave Sudan. She loves Sudan very much. It's the country she was born and grew up in," he said.

Image caption Mrs Ibrahim travelled with her husband Daniel Wani

"But her life is in danger so she feels she has to leave. Just two days ago a group called Hamza made a statement that they would kill her and everyone who helps her," he added.

Mrs Ibrahim's husband, Daniel Wani, also a Christian, is from South Sudan and has US nationality.

Their daughter Maya was born in prison in May, shortly after Mrs Ibrahim was sentenced to hang for apostasy - renouncing one's faith.

Under intense international pressure, her conviction was quashed and she was freed in June.

She was given South Sudanese travel documents but was arrested at Khartoum airport, with Sudanese officials saying the travel documents were fake.

These new charges meant she was not allowed to leave the country but she was released into the custody of the US embassy in Khartoum.

Last week, her father's family filed a lawsuit trying to have her marriage annulled, on the basis that a Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim.

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