Sudanese Christian woman spared death sentence arrives in Italy
A Sudanese Christian woman who was sentenced to death for renouncing Islam, then acquitted after intense international pressure, arrived on Thursday in Italy with her family en route to the United States.
Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag was greeted in Rome by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his wife as well as Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini.
“Today is a day of celebration”, Renzi said.
Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Lapo Pistelli, who accompanied the family on the flight to Rome, tweeted a photo of the young mother aboard the plane cradling her infant daughter as her toddler son drank from a bottle.
“Mission accomplished,” he wrote.
Pistelli said Pope Francis had been informed of Ishag’s arrival, and that a meeting between the pontiff and the Sudanese woman was possible.
A global outcry erupted in May after Ishag was sentenced under Sharia law to hang for apostasy.
Days after her conviction, the 26-year-old gave birth to a second child in prison.
Ishag’s conviction was overturned in June, but she was immediately rearrested while trying to leave Sudan using what prosecutors claimed were forged documents.
Two days later, Ishag was released from prison and she and her family — including her American husband Daniel Wani and the two infant children — took refuge in the US embassy.
Ishag was born to a Muslim father who abandoned the family, and was raised by her Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum says Ishaq joined the Catholic church shortly before she married in 2011.
She was convicted under Islamic Sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983, and that says Muslim conversion to another faith is punishable by death.
The court had also sentenced her to 100 lashings because under Sharia law it considered her union with her non-Muslim husband to be adultery.
Ishag’s case raised questions of religious freedom in mostly-Muslim Sudan and sparked vocal protests from Western governments and human rights groups.
The case has re-focused attention on a country which has slipped from the international spotlight but where an 11-year-old war continues with millions of people in need of humanitarian aid.
Ishag’s husband Wani said her family had sought protection at the US embassy because of mounting death threats.
Ishag, Wani and their children are being hosted by the Italian government in Rome for a few days before they fly to New York.