State Department officials, under pressure since Sudanese woman Meriam Ibrahim and her American family were prevented from leaving the country for the United States, have discouraged congressional leaders from speaking out publicly on behalf of them, advocates for the family say.
Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman sentenced to death for apostasy before the government ultimately overturned her conviction, was arrested for a second time on her way out of the country. Her husband, American citizen Daniel Wani, was also arrested.
The State Department said this week that Ibrahim’s family wanted members of Congress to “keep quiet” about her case, according to a religious-liberty advocate whose organization works with the Ibrahim family’s lawyers in Sudan.
“And that’s simply not true,” says Tina Ramirez, founder of Hardwired, which provides legal training in Sudan on religious liberty, told National Review Online. State was “lying” about the wishes of the Ibrahim family, she says. “I don’t know why they would say such a thing.”
Ramirez explained that the State Department told members of Congress that Meriam Ibrahim’s husband and her brother-in-law, Gabriel (who lives in New Hampshire), had asked that Congress stand down.
“State was advising Congress to back off,” Ramirez said.
A State Department spokeswoman wouldn’t comment on the specific question of whether the department had discouraged members of Congress from speaking out publicly on this case.
“The State Department is in close contact with members who are interested in this case,” Pooja Jhunjhunwala told NRO. “We don’t discuss the details of those conversations but we greatly appreciate the support Congress has given the family, our embassy staff, and the interagency personnel in D.C. working towards a positive resolution of this case.”
A Hill staffer following Ibrahim case corroborated Ramirez’s account. “During this week’s fiasco, State has urged multiple congressional offices to maintain a ‘low profile’ on the Meriam case,” one Hill staffer told NRO, saying that the directive had gone primarily to Democratic offices inclined to follow State Department instructions.
“It’s clear that the State Department, or the embassy, screwed up in this case, royally,” says Ramirez. Although she acknowledges that negotiations could possibly be damaged by too much public talking, she believes that the State Department is trying to minimize its responsibility for Ibrahim’s second arrest.