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May 21. 2014 10:37PM

Sen. Ayotte joins battle to free woman in Sudan

U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte is calling on the U.S. government to offer political asylum to the pregnant physician wife of a Manchester man. She is being held with her toddler son in a Sudanese prison after being sentenced to death by hanging because she refused to recant her Christian faith.

“I’ve called for the U.S. government to offer Meriam Ibrahim (Ishag) political asylum and use all diplomatic measures to secure her safe release, and I continue to be in touch with the State Department and Department of Homeland Security regarding this case,” Ayotte, R-N.H., said in a prepared statement. “My office has also reached out to Daniel Wani and his family to obtain more information about their situation and to offer assistance.”

Ishag, a 27-year-old doctor, is eight months pregnant with her second child. She was sentenced to death by hanging after a Sudanese court found her guilty of apostasy — converting from Islam. Ishag’s father was a Muslim, but her mother raised her as a Christian. She also was found guilty of adultery, for having sex with a Christian man — her husband Daniel Wani — and was sentenced to 100 lashes. Her marriage to Daniel Wani was forbidden and voided in the eyes of the court.

Ishag is in leg shackles, imprisoned in Khartoum with her 20-month-old son, Martin. She will be allowed to nurse her newborn for two years, after which she will be lashed and hanged.

Daniel Wani has been in Khartoum for the past year and has asked the U.S. Embassy to intercede, according to his brother, Gabriel Wani.

The brothers fled their war-torn country in 1998, immigrating to the United States and settling in Manchester. Daniel Wani became a U.S. citizen in 2005.

“Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag’s sentencing is an abhorrent violation of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms,” U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said in a statement. “No one should be treated as a criminal for exercising the right of religious choice, and I urge the State Department to use every means of leverage at its disposal to ensure the release of this young woman and her son.”

The U.S. State Department has not said whether Daniel Wani’s son also is a U.S. citizen. According to americansabroad.org, for an American with a non-citizen spouse to transmit citizenship to children born abroad, the citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for five years prior to the child’s birth; two of the years have to be after the age of 14.

Daniel Wani also was charged with apostasy, but was found innocent, according to published reports. The complaint brought against the couple was reportedly leveled by Wani’s brother-in-law — Meriam’s brother — who maintained his sister was raised a Muslim and that she disappeared for years, only to resurface as a Christian married to Daniel Wani.

Ayotte is also cosponsoring a bipartisan Senate resolution, introduced Wednesday by U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Chris Coons, that condemns the death sentence and calls for Ishag’s immediate and unconditional release and that of her son, and encourages efforts by the U.S. government to support religious freedom within Sudan, including by requiring, before normalizing relations or lifting sanctions under the International Religious Freedom Act and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, that the government of Sudan abide by international standards of freedom of religion or belief.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, is also involved in the effort to secure Ishag’s release.

“It is unconscionable for any country to execute a woman because she married a Christian man,” Shea-Porter said in a written statement. “I have been in touch with the U.S. State Department and urge them to take all necessary and appropriate means to ensure the safe release of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag.”

Democratic Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster issued this statement: “This injustice is a profound and inexcusable violation of human rights. Our government needs to lend its full strength to saving this young mother, and the international community must band together to bring an end to this sort of reprehensible persecution.”

pgrossmith@unionleader.com


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