She had been sentenced to death for refusing to renounce her faith, and gave birth while shackled in prison. The heartbreaking story of Meriam Ibrahim, a 27-year-old Sudanese woman, drew international attention to the plight of a Christian woman living under Islamic Sharia law.
On Friday, Ibrahim spent her first full day in the United States resting with her family in Manchester, N.H., the home of her brother-in-law. She arrived Thursday on a flight from Rome along with her husband and two young children, and they were met with cheers at the airport.
“They are going to start a new life here,” said Monyroor Teng, pastor of the Sudanese Evangelical Covenant Church in Manchester. “She is very relieved to be here, and so happy. She can’t believe it.”
The family spent a quiet day recuperating from their trip, Teng said. Except for the couple’s toddler son, Martin, who was bouncing around the apartment with excitement, Teng said with a chuckle.
“He is so active,” he said.
On a stop in Philadelphia on Thursday, Ibrahim was hailed by the mayor as a “world freedom fighter.” In Manchester, the family was greeted by the local Sudanese community .
Her brother-in-law, Gabriel Wani, told reporters at the airport there was “a lot of happiness right now.” Her husband, Daniel Wani, briefly thanked the crowd, tears on his face.
Members of the Bethany Covenant Church in nearby Bedford are working to find the family an apartment, Teng said.
“They are doing good,” Teng said in a phone interview. “They are just very, very tired.”
Ibrahim plans to speak at a news conference Monday at Bethany Covenant Church. In a statement released by a spokesman for the church, Daniel Wani said “everyone is in good health but are very tired.”
Wani thanked New Hampshire’s senators and other members of Congress for “putting pressure on Sudan’s government,” and Italian officials for negotiating for their release. He also thanked Amnesty International and other human rights groups for their support.
In May, New Hampshire’s two US senators, Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, and Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, joined other lawmakers in filing a resolution that condemned Ibrahim’s sentence and called for her immediate release. In a statement, Shaheen said she was thrilled the family had made it safely to the United States.
“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,” she said. Donations to the family can be made through the church, the spokesman said.
Ibrahim’s father was Muslim, but she was raised by her mother as a Christian. In 2011, she married Daniel Wani.
Ibrahim’s ordeal began last year, when members of her father’s family complained that she had married a Christian. Muslim women in Sudan are prohibited from marrying non-Muslims, and children legally follow their father’s religion. Conversion to other religions is punishable by death.
Ibrahim was charged with adultery because her marriage to a non-Muslim was considered void, and in May was sentenced to death for refusing to recant her faith. “I am a Christian,” she told the court. “And I will remain a Christian.”