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December 3, 2007

Teacher jailed over teddy bear given pardon

Teacher jailed over teddy bear given pardon

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Monday, December 3, 2007

The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir has issued a full pardon to British school teacher Gillian Gibbons who was sentenced to 15 days in jail after allowing children in her class to name a teddy bear “Muhammad”.

The decision came after a meeting with two members of a British Muslim group, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi who travelled to the Sudan after her imprisonment around a week ago. The imprisonment of the 54 year-old teacher from Liverpool caused international outcry with Muslims in Sudan protesting for her death, and British Muslims protesting for her release.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “delighted and relieved” at the decision and Mrs Gibbons said “I am sorry if I caused any distress” in a released statement. Mrs Gibbons is expected to be released into the custody of the British embassy in the Sudan.



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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.



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

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Sudanese protesters demand death for British teacher

Sudanese protesters demand death for British teacher

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Roughly 600 enraged Sudanese protesters, some armed with knives and sticks, converged on Khartoum’s Martyrs’ Square after Friday Prayers to demand the death of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed yesterday for allowing her class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear Mohammad, one of the most common names in the Arab world.

A number of prominent Sudanese clerics ignored government instructions not to inflame the situation, although they stopped short of directly calling for her death. By the end of Friday Prayers passions were running high.

Sheikh Hussein Mubarak told thousands of the faithful gathered for the Muslim day of prayer that the court’s “verdict was lenient out of fear of criticism from human rights organisations, America and the West”, and he denounced “those who try to defend democracy and human rights and insult the Prophet.” He claimed Ms Gibbons was part of a campaign to transform Sudan from an Islamic state into a Christian state.

Sheikh Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, told worshippers at the city’s Martyr’s Mosque that Gillian Gibbons had deliberately named her class’s teddy bear Mohammed with the intention of insulting Islam. “Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion.”

Leaflets distributed earlier in the week by Sudanese Muslim groups had condemned Gibbons as an “infidel” and accused her of “the pollution of children’s mentality”. They promised a “popular release of anger” at demonstrations on Friday.

An angry crowd of around 600 protesters – some reports say thousands – gathered at Martyrs’ Square, outside the presidential palace. The mob chanted slogans like, “those who insult the Prophet of Islam should be punished with bullets”, “No tolerance: Execution,” “Kill her, kill her by firing squad,” and “Shame, shame on the UK.” Newspaper pictures of Ms Gibbons were set on fire, and foreign journalists were threatened, and forced to leave.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed but they did not break up the demonstration.

Britain’s Foreign Office is understood to be arranging further talks with the Sudanese government today.

Boris Johnson, an English MP writing in The Times in London, has welcomed Muslim opposition in Britain to the events in Sudan and called for muslims to publicly demonstrate their outrage:

“the voices we need to hear now belong to Britain’s vast, sensible Muslim majority… Their arguments will be heard with respect in Khartoum, since they cannot be said to be founded on any kind of cultural imperialism, or to be actuated by Islamophobia.
“More importantly, a strong protest by British Muslims against the imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons would help to contradict the growing ranks of pessimists and neo-cons – the people who say that the real problem is Islam, the religion itself.”

Ms Gibbons’ son John, from Liverpool, has asked that British people angered by his mother’s jail sentence should not turn against Muslims.

“We have had a lot of support from Muslims in Britain, in Sudan and across the world… I do not want this to lead to any anti-Muslims feeling in this country.”



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Name A Teddy For Gillian Gibbons Campaign

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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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