Meriam Ibrahim lands in Italy, on way to US; Update: Meets with Pope Francis
There’s plenty of bad news already coming over the transom today and we’ll get to all of it, but one story we’ve followed here has a happy ending. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim, the woman sentenced to death in Sudan for her Christian faith, has left Khartoum and landed in Rome, greeted by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi at the airport. Italy helped the US mediate her release with Sudanese officials in a quiet effort launched a few weeks ago:
Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman sentenced to death in Sudan for apostasy but subsequently pardoned, arrived in Rome on Thursday, the Italian Foreign Ministry said.
Ibrahim “will remain in Italy for a short time and then will travel on to the United States,” the ministry said. …
[Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Lapo] Pistelli said Italy had become involved in the case because, as a Catholic country, it was very moved by Ibrahim’s story and wanted to help.
Italy has good relations with Khartoum and offered to help the U.S. Embassy there to speed up the process of getting U.S. passports for Ibrahim and her family to leave the country, the minister said.
Pistelli said he had traveled to Sudan two weeks ago to start the process but it was not finalized until Wednesday night.
He posted an image to his Facebook page of himself with Ibrahim and the two infants, apparently taken on board the plane shortly before their arrival in Rome. “Mission accomplished,” he wrote.
Pistelli told the press that Pope Francis had been kept informed of the progress of their efforts, and planned on meeting Ibrahim while she was in Italy. The Vatican would not confirm or deny this, but said any private meeting would not get comment in the future either. For the moment, though, the government of Italy will keep Ibrahim and her family under protection — a wise move given the circumstances of her departure.
This raises some interesting questions about how Italy and the US managed to get her out of the country without causing a huge headache for Islamist dictator Omar al-Bashir. His regime has managed to alienate most of Sudan already except for the radical Islamists, which includes Ibrahim’s stepbrother, who wanted her executed as an honor killing. The case drew a ton of attention inside and outside of Sudan, with Bashir’s Islamist credentials potentially at risk if he allowed Ibrahim to flee — which is likely why his secret police seized her at the airport when she tried to leave on her own, and why Ibrahim ended up at the US embassy looking for asylum. Either Bashir will face angry questions from Ibrahim’s family and other hard-line Islamists over her release, or other arrangements were made with the family.
However it happened, kudos to the Italian government for their intercession and success. Prayers have certainly been answered in this case, one bright spot in a bleak season of persecution for Christians. Hopefully, the US will get a chance to welcome Ibrahim and her children to the US soon, but let’s also hope that Ibrahim has a chance to enjoy Italian hospitality while the opportunity presents itself.
Update: Looks like the Vatican acted with alacrity to bring Meriam to meet Pope Francis: