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November 30, 2007

British teacher convicted of insulting Islam in Sudan

British teacher convicted of insulting Islam in Sudan

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher arrested in Sudan on Sunday for naming a teddy bear Muhammad, was charged on Wednesday, and tried, convicted, and sentenced yesterday to 15 days imprisonment for “insulting religion.” The 54-year-old mother of two avoided a possible 40 lashes, but will be deported at the end of her sentence, which will run from the date of her arrest.

Following the speedy trial, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned Sudanese ambassador Omer Siddig to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to explain the verdict. During the 45 minute meeting Mr Miliband expressed “in the strongest terms” the government’s concern at the sentence, and spoke by telephone to the Sudanese acting foreign minister.

The trial

According to early reports, parents had complained that Ms Gibbons had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, but when she was charged on Wednesday, this was revealed to be false. It was Sara Khawad, a secretary at the Unity High School where Ms Gibbons taught, who had complained to the Education Ministry and provoked Ms Gibbons’ arrest last weekend.

Early Thursday morning, as vehicles filled with riot police watched the area and the press and colleagues of Ms Gibbons were denied access to the criminal courthouse in Khartoum, the trial got underway. The head of her legal team, Kamal Djizouri, was also denied access for a time.

Ms Khawad was one of four witnesses from the prosecution. Also testifying against Ms Gibbons was an accountant from the school.

Gillian Gibbons wept as she testified that she never wanted to insult Islam. She had allowed her six and seven year old pupils to vote on the name for a teddy bear that was part of a class project. The children had voted by 20 votes to 3 to name the bear Muhammad.

At the end of a seven-hour trial, the court found her guilty of “insulting the faith of Muslims”. The Judge, Mohammed Youssef, rejected prosecution calls for a harsher sentence on the charge of “inciting religious hatred”, which carries a punishment of up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine.

After the trial, Ms Gibbons was taken to the crowded women’s prison in Omdurman to begin the remaining 11 days of her sentence. Although the prison is more comfortable than many in Sudan, conditions are not good, and Ms Gibbons will have to rely on wellwishers to supply her with food and water.

An appeal against the sentence is expected.

Reactions in Sudan

The Assembly of the Ulemas, a body of Islamic clerics, said on Wednesday that Ms Gibbon’s action was “another ring in the circles of plotting against Islam”, and called for the harshest penalties to be applied. After Ms Gibbons was charged, a pickup truck drove through the Sudanese capital calling for protests against the alleged insult.

Some members of Ms Gibbons’ defense team reported receiving death threats.

The authorities quickly scheduled the trial, and issued instructions to clerics not to deliver inflammatory sermons at Friday prayers about the case or against foreigners.

Major General Abdeen al-Tahir of the Khartoum police stated that protests would not be permitted.

After the trial, Ms Gibbons’ chief lawyer described the verdict as “not bad”, and her colleagues expressed relief that the sentence was not harsher.

The lawyer stated that the complaint was an act of revenge. Isam Abu Hasabu, director of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association, claimed Khawad had been arguing with the principal before the incident.

The school, which according to press reports has issued a public apology and sacked Ms Gibbons, has been closed for security reasons since her arrest. The director said he was happy with the verdict: “It is fair. There were a lot of political pressures and ­attention.”

Omar El Faroug Hassan Shumena, a legal consultant in Khartoum, said that he believed the judge had concluded the trial in a single day to reduce the chance of disorder after Friday Prayers.

International reaction

Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said Mrs Gibbons’ punishment was still “harsh”. She said: “It was a very speedy justice process.

After Ms Gibbons was charged, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) stated that they were appalled at the decision and called on the Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir, to intervene to secure Ms Gibbons’ release.

After the sentence, they further stated:

“This case should have required only simple common sense to resolve. It is unfortunate that the Sudanese authorities were found wanting in this most basic of qualities. They grossly overreacted in this sad affair and this episode. Gillian should never have been arrested, let alone charged and convicted of committing a crime. We hope that Gillian will be able to return home without much further delay.”

Ibrahim Mogra, also of the MCB, stated: “I’m utterly disappointed with this decision… The question that I would want the judiciary there and the authorities to ponder over is: How does this help the cause of Islam? What kind of message and image are we portraying about our religion and our culture?”

Mike Blakemore of Amnesty International said: “The sentence is a mockery of justice and Amnesty International consider Gillian to be a prisoner of conscience. She should be immediately and unconditionally released.”

Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “I can’t see any justification for this at all. I think that this is an absurdly disproportionate response to what is at best a minor cultural faux pas. And I think that it’s done the Sudanese government no credit whatever.”

According to the BBC, the press in Sudan and the Middle East have largely ignored the case, but bloggers from Sudan have heaped scorn on the Sudanese authorities.



Related news

  • “British teacher faces 40 lashes over teddy bear’s name” — Wikinews, November 28, 2007

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November 28, 2007

British teacher faces 40 lashes over teddy bear\’s name

British teacher faces 40 lashes over teddy bear’s name

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A British teacher working in Sudan was arrested on Sunday after parents allegedly complained that she had insulted Islam by naming a teddy bear Muhammad. She faces a possible six months in prison, 40 lashes, or a fine.

A blasphemous bear?

Gillian Gibbons, 54, who had arrived at Khartoum’s Unity High School in August, polled the six and seven year old children in her class on what they should call the bear. Out of 8 names, including Abdullah and Hassan, the children overwhelmingly voted for Muhammad, by 20 votes to 3.

The bear was named back in September, as part of a teaching assignment. Each weekend a child would take it home, and write a diary of what they had done with the bear. These accounts were collected in a book with a picture of the teddy on the front, along with the message “My name is Muhammad”. The bear itself was not labeled or marked with the name.

On Sunday, November 25, as a group of angry men chanted threats, the police arrested Ms Gibbons at her lodgings in the School. The book has also been seized, and police want to question the bear’s 7 year old owner.

Since her arrest she has been moved from a local police station to Sudan’s Criminal Investigation Department headquarters for interrogation. British consular officials were initially refused permission to see her, but were allowed to leave food and water. Colleagues from the school have however been able to visit, and consular access was eventually provided.

The British embassy in Khartoum has not been able to confirm whether the teacher has formally been charged.

School reaction

Director Robert Boulos has closed the school until January for fear of reprisals. “This is a very sensitive issue,” he said.

He stressed that there was no deliberate insult: “This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam.” Mr Boulos was also confident she would not face a jail sentence.

However, in an Arabic statement sent to More4 News last night, Unity High School announced that Mrs Gibbons’ employment with the school was being terminated with immediate effect:

“The administration of Unity High School would like to proffer an official apology to all students and their families and to all Muslims for what was an individual action, which does not represent the sentiments of the administration or the school.”

The Sudanese Media Centre, which is linked to the government, reports that that Ms Gibbons’ actions had “met with wide condemnation by guardians of the students”, but colleagues of Ms Gibbons claimed that no such complaints had been received by any of the children’s parents.

Legal escalation

Sudan’s Justice Minister, Mohammed Ali Mardhi, ordered General Prosecutor Salaheddin Abu Zaid to take personal charge of the case.

If charged with insulting the Prophet Muhammad, regarded as blasphemy under Sudan’s Sharia law, Ms Gibbons faces 40 lashes or six month’s imprisonment – but the prosecutor has suggested that more serious charges could follow. He is continuing to question witnesses, and there are unconfirmed reports that blasphemy charges have already been brought, and that charges of sedition are being considered.

International reaction

The British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, expressed sorrow about what has happened to Ms Gibbons, and stated that contacts had been made with the Sudanese government and police to “clarify” the situation.

Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, called for the release of Ms Gibbons, stating: “I hope that the Foreign Office will do everything they can to calm the situation. I will be giving every assistance I can.”

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that Ms Gibbons should never have been arrested in the first place, and called on the Sudanese government to intervene in the case with a view to ensuring that she is released without delay.

In contrast to official statements within Sudan, the Sudanese Embassy in the UK has downplayed the whole affair, saying that the “minute” issue would soon be resolved.

Speculation

Some commentators have suggested other contributing factors in this furore:

  • Britain’s criticism of the Sudanese government’s human rights record in Darfur may have angered the Sudanese authorities.
  • Teachers at the school have suggested that a colleague with a grudge against the school, rather than parents, might be the source for the complaints.
  • Bishop Ezekiel Kondo, chairman of the school council, suggested that the affair could be related to a tax dispute between the school and the Sudanese authorities.
  • Canadian radio commentators have suggested that the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005 may have increased the Muslim sensitivity to this issue.



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July 3, 2007

Controlled explosions take place as police enquiry into UK bombings continues

Controlled explosions take place as police enquiry into UK bombings continues

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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

New Scotland Yard, the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Force

A suspicious bag has undergone a controlled explosion outside a London Underground station, as has a car outside a mosque in Glasgow, Scotland.

These police actions come in the wake of failed terror attacks involving car bombs in London and at Glasgow International Airport on 29th and 30th June.

The terror threat level in the UK remains critical, indicating that an attack could be expected imminently and high security is in evidence on mass transport routes, while the police continue their investigations. Earlier this morning, a controlled explosion took place on a suspicious package discovered outside Hammersmith Station on the London Underground system. The scare led to the closure of Hammersmith and Barons Court stations for one hour.

Two other stations, Tower Hill and East Ham, were closed in similar circumstances. All four stations have now been reopened.

Sky news reports that three controlled explosions took place on a car outside a mosque in Glasgow, in order to allow police to gain entry to it. The mosque itself is not being linked to the terror attacks.

The Muslim Council of Britain has condemned the attacks, and has urged Muslims throughout the country to assist in police investigations.

The police force is continuing its investigations throughout the country, with an open appeal to the country for vigilance in reporting anything suspicious.

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Anti-Terrorist Hotline Number
For providing information to authorities about terrorist activities, contact the anti-terrorism hotline at: 0800 789 321

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October 23, 2006

UK Government propaganda directed at Muslim youth

UK Government propaganda directed at Muslim youth

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Monday, October 23, 2006

2005 Wikimedia file photo of the Glasgow Central Mosque in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Scotsman uncovers what it calls “a largely-unannounced propaganda campaign” by John Reid, the UK Home Secretary, intended to prevent the spread of extremism among young British Muslims. Islamic teachers and preachers have been recruited to put the case against violence and promote moderation. The media used for this campaign include a website – The Radical Middle Way, events held in different parts of the country, courses of lectures, pod casts, and CDs. Listed among the supporters of this campaign, which include a number of book shops. food providers and charities, are the Home Office, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

One Home Office source is quoted as saying that “…there are forces within this country trying to manipulate the feeling of British Muslims, and we have to do more to combat those forces”.

Prime Minister Tony Blair is said to have instructed Ministers to look beyond the Muslim Council of Great Britain and engage with all streams of Muslim opinion.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality is reported as saying on BBC 1’s Sunday AM programme that he would not want to be a Muslim, because what should have been a proper conversation between all kinds of British people “seems to have turned into a trial of one particular community, and that can’t be right”.

What stimulated the rush to the studios of politicians and Ministers to give their opinions on Muslim culture was the objection that the Leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw had, to women wearing the full veil when attending his surgery.

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October 6, 2006

Jack Straw, Leader of the British House of Commons urges Muslim women to drop full veil

Jack Straw, Leader of the British House of Commons urges Muslim women to drop full veil

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Friday, October 6, 2006

Women in Turkey wearing the niqab.

The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, Leader of the British House of Commons, has urged Muslim women not to wear the full veil or Niqab. Initially, he said that, when meeting his constituents, he found it difficult to talk to anyone wearing a full veil because the expression on the face conveyed much of what a speaker meant. Later, he expanded his opinion saying that the wearing of the veil at any time tended to promote separation of peoples and the “formation of parallel communities”.

A 10 Downing Street statement said that this view was Straw’s personal opinion and not an expression of the government’s policy.

Straw’s remarks have elicited a range of responses from members of the Muslim community in the UK. While Daud Abdullah, from the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the choice of wearing a veil was up to individual women, Muslim Association of Britain said that Straw and the Conservative leader David Cameron, who expressed a similar view, were pandering to the “right-wing media”. The British public appear to support his view with a number of media polls showing a vast majority in agreement. A telephone poll by the BBC also showed overwhelming public sympathy, with 93 per cent supporting his views.

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August 12, 2006

British Muslims warn Prime Minister Tony Blair over foreign policy

British Muslims warn Prime Minister Tony Blair over foreign policy

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Saturday, August 12, 2006

Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Some of the United Kingdom’s most influential British Muslims have written a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair saying that there must be urgent changes to UK foreign policy.

In the memo, they say current government policy musters fanaticism and puts ordinary people at risk in both the United Kingdom and abroad. They also urge the Prime Minister to extend his efforts in tackling terrorism and extremism.

The letter has been signed by three Muslim Members of Parliament, three Muslim peers and thirty-eight Muslim groups including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Muslim Association of Britain, the British Muslim Forum and the Muslim Solidarity Committee.

Sadiq Khan, one of the Members of Parliament to sign the letter, condemns the Government’s stance on the Middle East. “This government has had some major foreign policy successes that have helped make the world a better place. But current policy on the Middle East is seen by almost everyone I speak to as unfair and unjust.”

“Whether we like it or not such a sense of injustice plays into the hands of extremists. As moderates we will do all we can to fight extremism. We hope the government will join us in this, not just by changing the rules on hand luggage, but by showing itself as an advocate for justice in the world.”

In a response to the letter, a 10 Downing Street spokesman said: “We should always remember that the terrorism affecting the West today has blighted Muslim countries for several decades. It certainly pre-dated our decision to support democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq and of course the September 11 attacks. Our foreign policy is focused on supporting the people of those countries in their desire to live in a democracy just as we enjoy in the UK.”

Downing Street also said that Tony Blair “stands ready” to meet with Muslim representatives when he returns to the UK from his holiday in the Caribbean.

The letter comes after police foiled an alleged attempt by terrorists to blow up several planes travelling mid-air from the United Kingdom to the United States of America.

Related

  • “Police in Britain uncover suspected terrorist plot” — Wikinews, August 11, 2006

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September 1, 2005

Al-Qaida claims responsibility for London 7/7 bombings

Al-Qaida claims responsibility for London 7/7 bombings

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July 7 London bombings
Latest coverage
  • Tributes paid to the victims of the July 7 2005 London bombings
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  • London’s Metropolitan Police Service found guilty in suspected suicide bomber case
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See also
  • Coordinated terrorist attack hits London
  • All articles about the bombing
Background
  • Profile: Al Qaeda
  • A list of terrorist incidents

Thursday, September 1, 2005

Al Jazeera has aired two video tapes by Al Qaida on Thursday evening. In one of them, the terror group’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri has claimed responsibility for the July 7 London bombings and threatened further attacks. The alleged leader of the London bombers, Mohammad Sidique Khan, appeared on a separate recording and outlined his reasons for the bombings.

Speaking in English with a Yorkshire accent, Kahn stated that the Blair government is to blame for the attacks. He claimed that the West is backing governments who commit crimes against humanity. Western citizens should no longer feel safe, he said and threatened similar attacks upon them: “Until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation”

Al-Zawahiri described the 7/7 attacks as “a slap to the policy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair” and called the attacks a response to the UK’s foreign policy “just as 9/11 was a response to America’s”.

Scotland Yard said they are “aware of the tape; we will consider it as part of our ongoing investigation”. British Foreign secretarcy Jack Straw said there was “no excuse, no justification for terrorism of any kind”.

Gous Ali, a Muslim whose girlfriend was killed in the bombing, condemned the broadcast as being “wrong and all lies”. “It’s all brainwashing by some wacko scholar who believes his own version of the Koran and has made it his own battle. There is no holy war”, he told the BBC.

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said that holding the British Public responsible for the war “is just plain wrong – this country was bitterly divided and many millions, perhaps the majority, clearly opposed the war.”

Experts are currently investigating the tape for possible clues.

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