Husband of Sudanese `apostate` says fearful family wants out

The American husband of a Sudanese Christian woman cleared by a court of apostasy but facing death threats from extremist Muslims said on Wednesday they are fearful and want to leave Sudan.

Khartoum: The American husband of a Sudanese Christian woman cleared by a court of apostasy but facing death threats from extremist Muslims said on Wednesday they are fearful and want to leave Sudan.

"We are worried. That`s why we want to get out of here as soon as possible," Daniel Wani told AFP from a Khartoum police station where his wife, Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 26, is being questioned.

Police are investigating the authenticity of her travel documents after authorities stopped the family from leaving Sudan on Tuesday following an annulment of her apostasy death sentence.

They were trying to travel to Washington, D.C., said Wani.

"We are supposed to be there," he said, insisting there is nothing wrong with the travel documents.

Ishag was detained by national security agents at Khartoum airport, despite the presence of United States embassy diplomats who were escorting them, Wani said.

The family and its two children, including a baby girl born while Ishag was on death row, were moved to the police station later on Tuesday.

A lower-court judge sentenced Ishag to death for apostasy on May 15, in a case that raised questions of religious freedom and sparked an outcry from Western governments and rights groups.

An appeal court freed her on Monday from the women`s prison where she had been detained with her children, but she immediately went into hiding because of the death threats.

Kau Nak, charge d`affaires at the South Sudanese embassy in Khartoum, also insisted Ishag`s papers are valid.

"I`m the one who issued that travel document to her," Kau Nak told AFP. "My signature is on the back of the document."

He said neither the police nor any other official had contacted him about its authenticity.

"It is a normal document we give to our citizens when they are returning home. We gave that to her and her kids", Kau Nak said, explaining that Ishag is entitled to the document because her husband and children are South Sudanese.Kau Nak said he signed the papers, which are valid for three months, on Tuesday morning after they provided all relevant documentation including a marriage certificate.

There are no direct flights to the United States from Sudan, which has been under an American trade embargo since 1997.

"Nobody knows" how long the police investigation will take, one of Ishag`s lawyers, Mohanad Mustafa said, adding that she was not under arrest.

In Washington on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf downplayed the incident and said US officials would work with Khartoum to ensure the family would soon be on its way.

"They have not been arrested," she added. "The government has assured us of their safety. The embassy has and will remain highly involved in working with the family and the government."

Born to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian mother, Ishag was convicted by the lower court under Islamic sharia law that has been in force in Sudan since 1983 and outlaws conversions on pain of death.

When Ishag was five her father abandoned the family, and she was raised according to her mother`s faith.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Khartoum said she joined the Catholic church shortly before she married.

Ishag was stopped at Khartoum airport at roughly the same time the United Nations independent expert on human rights in Sudan, Mashood Adebayo Baderin, held a press conference in Khartoum.

He said that if she had received death threats, "as a citizen of this country, the Sudan has a duty to protect its citizens."

Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a British-based group working for religious freedom, said Ishag`s "alleged brother" has stated the family would carry out the death sentence if she were acquitted by the court.

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