State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf confirmed that Meriam Ibrahim had been "re-arrested" by Sudan Wednesday.
"Subsequent to the briefing — timing is often very important here — the family was taken to a police station for further questioning, where police subsequently rearrested her on charges related to her travel documents," Harf said. "She has been held since then at the police station. Her family is with her. She's in the custody of the Sudanese police while the issues related to her travel — their travel documents — excuse me — are sorted out."
Harf added the State Department had met with her in the "prison," before shifting quickly and saying instead she was "in the custody of Sudanese police."
"I wouldn't refer to it as a prison. I don't have all the specifics on that," Harf said. "We've met with her and given her some items she needs. And they've said they will keep them safe, and we are absolutely going to make sure they do so.
Q: Yeah, on Sudan. Yesterday you told us the Sudanese government had told you that Ms. Ibrahim had been briefly detained but subsequently released —
MARIE HARF: Yes.
Q: — and that she had not been arrested.
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HARF: Mmm hmm.
Q: Her lawyer told us that she had been arrested, that he was at the prison — that he was at the police station with her. We quote him today as saying that she's been charged with forging a South Sudanese passport, or producing a forged document.
HARF: I do have an update for you that explains the discrepancy in statements.
Q: Right, and I'm particularly keen to know whether the U.S. and South Sudanese — but you may only be able to speak for the U.S. — ambassadors or envoys had been summoned by the Sudanese Foreign Ministry over this?
HARF: Yeah, so midday yesterday, when we talked, she had not been arrested at the airport. Subsequent to the briefing — timing is often very important here — the family was taken to a police station for further questioning, where police subsequently rearrested her on charges related to her travel documents. She has been held since then at the police station. Her family is with her. She's in the custody of the Sudanese police while the issues related to her travel — their travel documents — excuse me — are sorted out. Embassy staff have been in frequent contact with the family, our lawyers — and its lawyers — excuse me — and have provided needed supplies to the family while she's been in the custody of the police, so have been able to visit her and give her something she needs. The government of Sudan has assured us of their — the family's safety. Obviously that's of utmost important (ph) to us. We will continue monitoring the situation and discussing it with them.
Finally, at the request of the government of Sudan, our charge d'affaires met today with the Sudanese Foreign Ministry to discuss the case. He reaffirmed our concern that the family should be allowed to depart swiftly from Sudan, that we would work on that with them. You are right. I cannot speak for the South Sudanese government.
Let me see if I have any other updates. And to the best of our knowledge, these charges aren't related in any way to the previous case. They are related to her travel documents. I think that's my update —
Q: Do you have any — according to our reporting, she had — or the allegation is that she had a South Sudanese passport with a visa for the United States in it. If that were the case, you would have — the U.S. government would have granted her a visa. So can you address whether the U.S. government gave her a visa to come to the United States? And then secondly, if you did, did you have any concerns about the authenticity of her travel document?
HARF: Can't comment a lot more on the specifics of her travel documents. Obviously we're working with her and her family and the government of Sudan to try and get everything in proper order so she can, and her family, depart swiftly.
Q: But what about did you give her a visa?
HARF: We can't comment any further on the specifics of her travel documents.
Q: But I'm not asking about her travel documents. I'm asking about a visa.
HARF: Well, a visa is technically a travel document, Arshad. So —
Q: Is it really? I thought a visa — a travel document referred to a passport.
HARF: A visa to give you entry to a country, we consider that as part of a travel document colloquially when I'm answering your question. We have nothing else to say about passports, visas, anything. We'll continue working with the family and with the government of Sudan.
Q: I think there's a concern, the reason why this question is coming up. There's a concern that this might have been some bungled attempt to get her out of the country. Do you —
HARF: Bungled by who?
Q: By — I don't know, by the South Sudanese? By you guys? I don't know.
HARF: There are processes in place for people to leave certain countries. We have been working with the family to ensure that they can swiftly depart from Sudan. We know there are a number of documents needed. We want to make sure everything's in order. We're working with them right now to see if we can help in any of that.
Q: Your understanding is that this woman is a citizen of South Sudan?
HARF: I don't have much more to comment on in terms of her specific travel documents or citizenship or which — how she may have been attempting to leave the country.
Q: All right. And then just given the interest that there was on this at yesterday's briefing, was there some reason why we couldn't get an update, like, off-camera? When did — when did this information about their rearrest come out? Was it like 8:00 at night or something?
HARF: It was coming out — coming out overnight. And this morning, actually, I think the details were still a little murky and we were trying to confirm them, quite frankly. So.
Q: OK, so — OK, I'm not complaining. I'm just kind of curious. Did — and you're — but you're satisfied that this new account from the Sudanese authorities is correct as far as it goes?
HARF: Well, it's not a new account. It's an updated account.
Q: Well, that's what I'm —
HARF: What I said yesterday was the situation at the time.
Q: Right, but you're confident that this is accurate now?
HARF: Yes. Yes. I mean, we've met with her in the prison, or in the — in the custody of the Sudanese police. I wouldn't refer to it as a prison. I don't have all the specifics on that.
Q: OK, but —
HARF: We've met with her and given her some items she needs. And they've said they will keep them safe, and we are absolutely going to make sure they do so.