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July 31. 2014 9:43PM

Meriam Ibrahim welcomed to NH; family says U.S. is offering asylum


Meriam Ibrahim watches her husband Daniel Wani give an interview at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in Manchester on Thursday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER — Meriam Ibrahim arrived at Manchester-Boston Regional Airport on Thursday night, leaving Sudan, and her death sentence for refusing to renounce her Christian faith, behind.

“Thank you so much,” her husband, Daniel Wani of Manchester, said to a horde of reporters while tears streamed down his cheeks. “I am so relieved.”

A throng of supporters from Manchester’s Sudanese community cheered the family’s entrance and sang songs while Ibrahim, who declined to give a statement to the media, greeted the cheering crowd before getting into an SUV and leaving the airport.

Her brother-in-law, Gabriel Wani, said Ibrahim has been granted asylum by the U.S. government and that she was to meet with officials from the U.S. State Department either Thursday night or this morning.

He said the family plans to “relax,” but isn’t sure what their plans are in the immediate future. He has said the Manchester Sudanese community will throw the family a party.

Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen since 2005, met his wife on a trip to Sudan in 2011. He 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.

However, she was jailed in February after a member of her family told authorities she recently converted from Islam to marry her Christian husband. In May, while eight months pregnant, Ibrahim was given a death sentence by a Sudanese court.

Her conviction was quashed in June, but Sudan’s government accused her of trying to leave the country with falsified papers, preventing her departure for the United States with her husband and two children.

She was initially detained, then released and moved into the U.S. embassy in Khartoum. After Ibrahim’s release, the family met Pope Francis at the Vatican July 24.

The family flew from Rome to Philadelphia on Thursday, then to New Hampshire.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Daniel’s brother, Gabriel, said Thursday before their arrival. “There is a lot of happiness today. There was way too much stress. Right now, everything is released.”

Ibrahim’s sentence drew international condemnation. New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte intervened on the family’s behalf to secure Ibrahim’s release.

“I’m so glad to know that Meriam and her family have finally arrived safely in Manchester,” Shaheen said in a statement. “No one should ever have to undergo the hardships they’ve experienced in recent months because of Meriam exercising her basic right of religious freedom. Her imprisonment and death sentence represented an abhorrent violation of fundamental human rights, but her strength in the face of such adversity was truly inspirational.”

“I’m so happy that Meriam and her family are safely home in New Hampshire,” Ayotte said in a statement. “She has inspired the world with her extraordinary courage and resilience, and I join all Granite Staters in extending a warm welcome to Meriam and her family.”

tbuckland@unionleader.com


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