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May 17. 2014 9:56AM

Sudan sentences NH man's pregnant wife to death for being a Christian sparking outrage


Gabriel Wani speaks about the situation with his sister-in-law, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, at Believers Christian Outreach Church in Manchester on Friday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — A Manchester man hopes the international outrage over a death sentence issued to his pregnant sister-in-law is strong enough to convince Sudanese leaders to release her and allow her husband to bring the family home to New Hampshire.

Gabriel Wani’s hopes were obscured by worry Friday about the fate his brother Daniel’s family.

“He don’t know what to do. He tried before a couple times to talk to the embassy to help him out with the situation. Now the embassy tries to act and everything is too late,” Gabriel Wani told the New Hampshire Union Leader on Friday.

Meriam Ibrahim was been sentenced to death by hanging after a Sudanese court found her guilty on charges of apostasy — converting from Islam — and 100 lashes on a charge of adultery. Her marriage to a Christian man was forbidden and voided in the eyes of the court.

The court gave the 27-year-old doctor until Thursday to recant her Christian faith, but she refused and was subsequently sentenced to hang.

She remained in a Khartoum prison with her 20-month-old son, Martin, while awaiting the birth of her second child next month. Daniel Wani was isolated at his family’s home in Khartoum, where he told his brother he was being watched and feared for his own safety as well as that of his wife, son and unborn child.

“He’s real emotional,” Gabriel Wani said.

Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen since 2005, went to Sudan last summer to arrange for his wife and child to move to New Hampshire, where the Wani brothers immigrated in 1998 after fleeing the war-torn African country.

“He tried to do the best for his family. He left his wife over there and came back here for his business,” Gabriel Wani said. “Now he went to see his son and go visit his wife.”

Although Ibrahim was raised as a Christian by her mother, she was Islamic by law because her father was a Muslim.

Gabriel Wani said the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum was slow to respond to his requests until Ibrahim’s arrest and trial, which quickly gained interest outside Sudan as word spread of the harsh sentence.

“We are praying for a miracle,” Gabriel Wani said.

Gabriel Wani said the court has delayed the execution of Ibrahim’s sentence, allowing her to give birth to the child next month and nurse it for two years. But with Martin incarcerated with her, friends and relatives want to see the entire family out of custody and a safe distance from the Sudanese regime that enforced the Sharia statute, which the United Nations declared Friday to be in violation with international law.

Gabriel Wani said he didn’t sleep Thursday night and had been on the phone nearly all of Friday, trying to find a way to help his brother’s family. He was encouraged to see the initial responses from Washington, but was not sure where the criticism of the Sudanese government would lead.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., issued statements condemning the action of the Sudanese court.

“The sentencing of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag is an abhorrent violation of fundamental freedoms and universal human rights,” Shaheen said. “No man or woman anywhere should be treated as a criminal much less sentenced to hanging for exercising the basic right of religious choice.”

Shaheen’s staff contacted the Department of State to discuss possible options.

Ayotte and fellow U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday, urging him to take immediate action in response to the “outrageous” court ruling. Ayotte also released a statement expressing her outrage at the decision.

“The Sudanese court’s ruling is a grave injustice and a violation of the fundamental human right of religious liberty,” she said. “I urge the U.S. government to immediately offer Meriam political asylum and do everything in its power to secure her and her son’s safe release.”

dalden@unionleader.com


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