State Dept. Won’t Say If Christian Toddler Jailed in Sudan is U.S. Citizen

Terence P. Jeffrey | May 20, 2014 | 12:03am EDT
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State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki (Screen Capture)

( - The U.S. State Department on Monday declined to say if Martin Wani, a 20-month-old Christian boy imprisoned by the Islamist Sudanese government, is a U.S. citizen.

“You don’t know whether that little boy in prison is a U.S. citizen?” asked State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki at the department’s Monday press briefing.

“I don’t have any more details to share,” Psaki said.

The State Department also would not say if the boy’s father, Daniel Wani, is a U.S. citizen and if, as the father has reportedly said, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum asked the father to secure DNA evidence to prove his imprisoned 20-month-old son was in fact his son.

Meriam Ibrahim—the toddler’s mother and fellow prisoner--was sentenced to be executed last week by a Sudanese court. Her capital offense was refusing to renounce her Christian faith.

Daniel Wani, Meriam Ibrahim’s husband, is reportedly a naturalized U.S. citizen who has been seeking help from the U.S. State Department for himself, his son, his wife, and the unborn child, who Meriam Ibrahim is now carrying in the eighth month of pregnancy.

Meriam, 27, was born in Sudan to a Muslim father and Ethiopian Orthodox mother, according to Morning Star News, a Christian news site. Her father reportedly left the family when she was six and her mother raised her as a Christian. She and Daniel Wani married in the Christian faith in 2012 and had their first child, Martin Wani.

In February, she and the boy were imprisoned. At the time, she was five months pregnant. The boy is in prison with his mother, according to the Morning Star News, because Sudan will not allow his father to take care of him because his father is a Christian.

In March, a Sudanese court charged the mother with apostasy for professing Christianity after having been born of a Muslim father. The court also charged her with “adultery” for relations with her own husband because Sudan refuses to recognize the marriage of a Muslim woman to a Christian man.

Last week, after Meriam refused to renounce her Christian faith, the court sentenced her to be flogged for adultery and executed for apostasy.

On April 28, Morning Star News reported that Daniel Wani said the State Department was not being helpful to him, his U.S. citizen son, his unborn child and his wife.

“My wife was never a Muslim,” Wani told the Morning Star News. “As an American citizen, I ask the people and government of the USA to help me.”

The news site reported that Wani said the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum wanted him to provide DNA evidence to prove the imprisoned toddler, Martin Wani, was his son.

“I will have to take a DNA sample in Khartoum, then send it to the USA for testing,” Wani told the news site. “I have provided wedding documents and the baby’s birth certificate, and doors were closed on his face.”

“I have tried to apply for papers to travel to the USA with my wife and child, but the American Embassy in Sudan did not help me,” Wani said. “My son is an American citizen living in a difficult situation in prison.”

Last Thursday evening, sent the State Department press office and the National Security Staff press officers at the White House a link to this story at the Morning Star News and asked a series of written questions. Among these were whether Daniel Wani was a U.S. citizen, whether Martin Wani was a U.S. citizen by virtue of being Daniel’s son, and whether the State Department had asked Wani to secure DNA evidence to prove the imprisoned 20-month-old was his son.

By Monday morning, neither the State Department nor White House had responded.

At a State Department press briefing on Monday afternoon, quoted to State Department spokesman Jen Psaki the statement from Daniel Wani in the Morning Star News in which Wani said he had brought his and Meriam Ibrahim’s wedding documents and Martin’s birth certificate to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum, had tried to apply for papers to bring his wife and child to the U.S., and that the embassy told him it wanted to see a DNA test proving Martin was his son.

“First,” asked Psaki, “is Meriam Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, a U.S. citizen? And is that 20-month-old boy in prison, by virtue of being his son, also a U.S. citizen?”

“Well, I don’t have any more details on this than what the statement the White House put out,” said Psaki. “Typically we don’t confirm those type of details, but I’m happy to check and see if there’s more to share.”

“You don’t know whether that little boy in prison is a U.S. citizen?” asked.

“I don’t have any more details to share,” Psaki said. asked: “Did the embassy in Khartoum ask Mr. Wani to provide DNA evidence that that was his son?”

Psaki said: “We’re happy to check and see if there’s more to share.”

“You don’t know whether that’s the case?” asked.

“Happy to check and see if there’s more to share,” she repeated.

Then asked: “So, as of this moment, the U.S. government does not know whether that 20-month-old boy in prison in Sudan is an American citizen imprisoned because he’s a Christian?"

Psaki said: “I think I’ve addressed your questions, and I’m happy to follow up with you after the briefing.”

The White House statement that Psaki mentioned was issued last Thursday, when the Sudanese court sentenced Meriam Ibrahim to death. The statement did not say that Ibrahim was married to a U.S. citizen. Nor did it say that she was imprisoned with her 20-month-old son, Martin, or whether he was a U.S. citizen. Nor did it mention that she was eight-month pregnant.

“Today in Sudan, Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag was sentenced to be flogged for adultery and to be hanged to death for apostasy because she married a Christian man,” said the statement from National Security Council Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden. “We strongly condemn this sentence and urge the Government of Sudan to meet its obligations under international human rights law.”


Late Monday afternoon, after the State Department briefing, followed up with the State Department press office and spokesperson Jen Psaki via email. asked: “Is Meriam Ibrahim's 20-month-old son, who is in prison with her, a U.S. citizen by virtue of his father being a U.S. citizen? Is the unborn child, with whom Meriam Ibrahim is 8 months pregnant, entitled to U.S. citizenship because his father is a U.S. citizen?”


By the close of the day, the State Department had not responded.

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