Pope Francis meets Meriam Ibrahim at the Vatican. Photograph: AP
Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced to death for apostasy in May, sparking an international campaign to save her life
- theguardian.com, Thursday 24 July 2014 23.03 AEST
The 27-year-old and her family were received at the pontiff’s guesthouse for just under 30 minutes in an atmosphere “of serenity and tenderness”, the Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
“The pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous demonstration of constancy of faith. Meriam gave thanks for the great support and comfort which she received from the prayers of the pope and of many other people who believe and are of good will.”
Francis, 77, also wanted the meeting to have a symbolic aspect, Lombardi said. “With this gesture the pope wished also to show his closeness, attention and prayer for all those who suffer because of their faith and in particular Christians who suffer persecution or restriction to their freedom of religion.”
Earlier on Thursday, Italian television showed Ibrahim leaving the aircraft at Ciampino airport in Rome accompanied by her husband, two children and Italy’s vice-minister for foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli.
Ibrahim was sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery and to death for apostasy in May, sparking an international campaign to lift the death sentence. More than a million people backed an Amnesty International campaign to get her released, with David Cameron, the British prime minister, and the US civil rights activist Jesse Jackson among world leaders who clamoured for her release.
While on death row, Ibrahim, a graduate of Sudan University’s school of medicine, gave birth in shackles in May. It was a difficult birth as her legs were in chains and Ibrahim is worried that the girl may need support to walk.
Ibrahim was told that her death sentence would be deferred for two years to allow her to nurse the baby.
Under the Sudanese penal code, Muslims are forbidden from changing faith, and Muslim women are not permitted to marry Christian men.
During her trial in Khartoum, she told the court that she had been brought up as a Christian, and refused to renounce her faith. She and Daniel Wani – an American citizen – married in 2011. The court ruled that the union was invalid and that Ibrahim was guilty of adultery.
Her convictions, sentences and detention in Omdurman women’s prison while heavily pregnant and with her toddler son incarcerated alongside her caused international outrage. After an appeal court overturned the death sentence, Ibrahim, Wani, and their two children tried to leave last month, but were turned back. The Sudanese government accused her of trying to leave the country with false papers, preventing her departure for the US.
Her lawyer, Mohaned Mostafa, said he had not been told of her departure on Thursday.
“I don’t know anything about such news but so far the complaint that was filed against Meriam and which prevents her from travelling from Sudan has not been cancelled,” Mostafa told Reuters.
Ibrahim and her family had been staying at the US embassy in Khartoum.