Skip to main content

Sudanese Christian woman: 'There's a new problem every day'

By Nima Elbagir and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
July 1, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mariam Yehya Ibrahim says she simply wants to leave with her family, "not anything more"
  • "I gave birth chained. Not cuffs but chains on my legs," she says of her prison ordeal
  • Doctors fear her baby may not be able to walk unsupported when she grows up
  • Ibrahim denies using falsified papers to try to leave Sudan for the United States

(CNN) -- What a week it's been for Mariam Yehya Ibrahim, the Sudanese Christian woman who initially faced a death sentence after refusing to renounce her faith.

She thought she was finally free Monday after a higher court ordered her release. A day later, she was back in police custody.

Now she faces a new charge, accused of falsifying travel documents, and has taken refuge in a safe house in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, amid concerns for her security.

In a phone interview with CNN, Ibrahim spoke of the ordeal of giving birth while in prison, her fears for her family and how she is facing a future full of unknowns.

Asked how she felt in prison, refused access to a hospital as the birth of her child neared, Ibrahim said, "I was only thinking about my children and how I was going to give birth. I was mostly scared of giving birth in prison."

The 27-year-old had reason to be alarmed.

"I gave birth chained. Not cuffs but chains on my legs. I couldn't open my legs so the women had to lift me off the table. I wasn't attached to the table," she said.

Doctors fear that the circumstances of the baby's birth may have lasting consequences.

"I don't know in the future whether she'll need support to walk or not," said Ibrahim.

She her husband, American Daniel Wani, were freed from custody Thursday after having been detained two days earlier upon arriving at the airport in Khartoum. They were trying to fly with their baby and toddler son to the United States.

Now they are waiting to see what happens in light of the latest allegations against Ibrahim, of traveling with falsified documents and giving false information.

"I'm currently in a safe place. It's definitely safe but not comfortable," Ibrahim said.

Sudanese Christian woman is in U.S. Embassy in Sudan

Persecuted as a 'nonbeliever'

Ibrahim's ordeal started when one of her relatives, a Muslim, filed a criminal complaint saying her family was shocked to find out she had married Wani, a Christian, after she was missing for several years.

A Sudanese court considered Ibrahim a Muslim because her father was Muslim. She was charged with adultery, because a Muslim woman's marriage to a Christian man is illegal in Sudan. She was also charged with apostasy, accused of illegally renouncing what was alleged to be her original faith.

Convicted while about eight months pregnant, she gave birth about two weeks later in a women's hospital in Khartoum.

She insists she has never been a Muslim -- and says she was persecuted as a Christian while in prison.

"I've always been Christian. I couldn't have been Muslim with the things they say and the way they treat me -- with a different sheikh coming to speak to me every other time and women in prison saying all sorts of things, like 'don't eat the nonbeliever's food' and calling me a Christian," she said. "There was all this talk and even the officers in the prison would join (in)."

A string of people, from politicians to humanitarian workers to lawmakers, came to visit while she was locked up with promises to help, she said, but none offered any real assistance. Eventually, following weeks of international controversy over her conviction for apostasy and adultery, it was overturned.

Ibrahim: My paperwork was '100% correct'

Now, the Sudanese authorities have accused Ibrahim of trying to leave without the correct paperwork. Sudan's National Intelligence and Security Services said that she had South Sudanese travel documents despite not being a citizen of South Sudan, and she was heading to the United States, which is not her native country.

But she is adamant that she "never forged any papers" and was entitled to travel on the documents she had.

"How can my paperwork be wrong? My paperwork came from the embassy. It's 100% correct and it was approved by the South Sudan ambassador and the American ambassador," she said.

"The South Sudanese embassy took responsibility and released the papers. It's in my right to use the papers and have a South Sudanese passport because my husband is a South Sudanese citizen. He has an American passport and South Sudanese passport."

Ibrahim had also been given a U.S. visa.

She described as "terrorizing" the way that Sudanese police officers took her and her husband, who uses a wheelchair, from the VIP departures hall as they waited to check in for their flight.

"We were scared and wondering what was wrong. They locked us in that room for four to five hours and the whole time we were trying to figure out what the problem was," she said.

She claims that the charges were filed in court before the police even investigated the claims against her and her husband. When they finally figured out what the alleged offense was, she was shocked, Ibrahim said.

"I can't even decide what I should do right now. I want to travel but at the same time I don't want to travel. But the state I'm in right now means that I'm forced to. There's a new problem every day about me leaving."

Asked if the authorities were trying to make life difficult for her, Ibrahim replied, "I don't know what their problem is."

Faith in her husband

Ibrahim simply hopes that she can leave, together with her husband and their children.

"That's exactly what I want. Not anything more," she said.

But despite her experiences so far, she insists that she is not scared. She will put her faith in her husband, Ibrahim said, and count on him to protect the family.

"If anything happens to us, he's responsible for us in the face of everyone else. This is protection and better for us. I'll go wherever he takes us, it's not a problem."

Witnesses: Sudan demolishes church in latest persecution of Christians

7 terrible countries for Christians

Why marrying for love should never mean death

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2245 GMT (0645 HKT)
Pakistan Taliban say the school attack was revenge for the killing of children in a military offensive -- but they are being pressed by defections to ISIS.
A group that claims it hacked Sony Pictures has posted a public threat against moviegoers who see Sony's "The Interview."
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
The gunman behind the deadly siege in Sydney this week was not on a security watch list, and Australia's Prime Minister wants to know why.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
Bestselling author Marjorie Liu had set her sights on being a lawyer, but realized it wasn't what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
CNN's Matthew Chance looks into an HRW report saying Russia has "legalized discrimination against LGBT people."
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0212 GMT (1012 HKT)
The Sydney siege has brought home some troubling truths to Australians. They are not immune to what are often called "lone-wolf" terror attacks.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 0012 GMT (0812 HKT)
A social media campaign condemning Islamophobia under the hashtag #illridewithyou has taken off after Sydney hostage siege.
Bill Cosby has kept quiet as sexual assault allegations mounted against him, but his wife, Camille, finally spoke out in defense of her husband.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
China-bound AirAsia flight turns back to Bangkok after passenger throws water over crew member.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1026 GMT (1826 HKT)
It takes Nepalese eye doctor, Sanduk Ruit about five minutes to change someone's life.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1054 GMT (1854 HKT)
This epic journey crosses 13,000 kilometers, eight countries over 21 days. Find out where.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1431 GMT (2231 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT