Christian mother turned global persecution icon Meriam Ibrahim could possibly spend another five years in prison after escaping death row Monday, if Sudanese officials convict her of forging the South Sudanese travel documents she tried leaving that country with on Tuesday.
The mother of two whose death sentence for renouncing Islam for Christianity was lifted Monday, was arrested and charged with fraud at a Khartoum airport Tuesday as she hurriedly tried to leave Sudan for the U.S. with her American-South Sudanese husband Daniel Wani using a South Sudanese passport issued by the embassy of South Sudan.
Sudanese officials have argued, however, that Meriam is flouting their laws as her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian, isn't recognized as a valid marriage under Sudan's Islamic laws where most of the people are Sunni Muslims, according to The Guardian.
South Sudan, a majority Christian nation became independent from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war. Despite frequent declarations that she is a Christian and her willingness to die for her faith, Sudanese officials have insisted that Meriam is Muslim because her father is Muslim.
"The airport passport police arrested Abrar after she presented emergency travel documents issued by the South Sudanese embassy and carrying an American visa," noted Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services on its Facebook page referring to Meriam by her Muslim name, according to The Guardian.
"The Sudanese authorities considered [the action] a criminal violation, and the foreign ministry summoned the American and South Sudanese ambassadors," the noted continued.
Meriam's lawyers confirmed that she was charged with forgery, an offense that is punishable by up to five years in prison under Sudan's penal code according to Reuters.
South Sudan's presidential spokesman said Meriam was issued South Sudanese travel documents because her American husband also bears South Sudanese citizenship.
Challenged by reporters about the details surrounding the issuance of a U.S. visa in passport that is considered invalid at a press briefing Wednesday, U.S. Department of State deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said it would be unusual for the U.S. embassy to issue a visa in a forged travel documents and stopped short of accusing Sudanese authorities of harassment.
"So you are still confident to make the family leaving the country, and you are satisfied with the cooperation you have with the Sudanese officials?" asked a reporter during the briefing.
"Well --," replied Harf.
"You are not accusing them of kind of harassment or –"
"I'm certainly not going to at this point. What we're focused on is getting her and her family swiftly out of the country – that's certainly our goal – and keeping them safe until they're able to," said Harf.
Harf said U.S. officials met with Sudanese authorities Wednesday and asked that Meriam be allowed to leave as quickly as possible.
"Can't comment a lot more on the specifics of her travel documents. Obviously, we're working with her and her family and the Government of Sudan to try and get everything in proper order so she can, and her family, depart swiftly," said Harf.
"Embassy staff have been in frequent contact with the family, our lawyer – and it's lawyers – excuse me – and have provided needed supplies to the family while she's been in the custody of the police, so have been able to visit her and give her some things she needs. The Government of Sudan has assured us of their – the family's – safety. Obviously, that's of utmost importance to us. We will continue monitoring the situation and discussing it with them," she explained.
"Finally, at the request of the Government of Sudan, our charge de affaires met today (Wednesday) with the Sudanese foreign ministry to discuss the case. He reaffirmed our concern that the family should be allowed to depart swiftly from Sudan that we would work on that with them. I cannot speak for the South Sudanese Government," she noted.