Home | News    Wednesday 28 November 2007

Sudan says teacher in bear case may be freed soon


November 27, 2007 (KHARTOUM, Sudan) — A British teacher arrested for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad will probably be cleared and released soon, a spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London said Tuesday.

Gillian Gibbons

Gillian Gibbons was arrested Sunday and faced possible charges of insulting religion - a crime punishable by up to 40 lashes. She was questioned by Sudanese authorities on Tuesday.

"The police is bound to investigate," embassy spokesman Khalid al Mubarak told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "I am pretty certain that this minute incident will be clarified very quickly and this teacher who has been helping us with the teaching of children will be safe and will be cleared."

Asked about the potential punishments - six months imprisonment or 40 lashes - he said: "My impression is that the whole thing could probably be settled amicably long before we reach stages like these ... Our relationship with Britain is so good that we wouldn’t like such a minute event to be overblown."

Gibbons was arrested after one of her pupils’ parents complained, accusing her of naming the bear after Islam’s prophet and founder. Muhammad is a common name among Muslim men, but giving the prophet’s name to an animal would be seen as insulting by many Muslims.

Several Sudanese newspapers ran a statement Tuesday reportedly from Unity High School in Khartoum where Gibbons taught, saying the administration "offers an official apology to the students and their families and all Muslims for what came from an individual initiative." It said Gibbons had been "removed from her work at the school."

In the first official comment on the case, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday played down the significance of the case, calling it "isolated despite our condemnation and rejection of it."

Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadeq said it was an incidence of a "teacher’s misconduct against the Islamic faith" but noted the school’s apology.

The statement from the school in newspapers called it a "misunderstanding." It underlined the school’s "deep respect for the heavenly religions" and for the "beliefs of Muslims and their rituals," adding that "the misunderstanding that has been raised over this issue leads to divisions that are disadvantageous to the reputation of the tolerant Sudanese people."

The Arabic statement was not officially confirmed by the school. But a person reached by phone at the school who identified herself as an administrator said the statement was correct. She refused to give her name, citing the sensitivity of the situation.

She said the school has closed for at least the next week until the controversy eases. The Unity High School, a private English-language school with elementary to high school levels, was founded by Christian groups, but 90 percent of its students are Muslim, mostly from upper-class Sudanese families.

The school’s director, Robert Boulos, told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the incident was "a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

Gibbons, 54, was teaching her pupils, who are around age 7, about animals and asked one of them to bring in her teddy bear, Boulos said. She asked the students to pick names for it and they proposed Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad, and in the end the pupils voted to name it Muhammad, he said.

Each child was allowed to take the bear home on weekends and write a diary about what they did with it. The diary entries were collected in a book with the bear’s picture on the cover, labeled, "My Name is Muhammad," he said. The bear itself was never labeled with the name, he added.

A former colleague of Gibbons, Jill Langworthy, told the Associated Press the lesson is a common one in Britain.

"She’s a wonderful and inspirational teacher, and if she offended or insulted anybody she’d be dreadfully sorry," said Langworthy, who taught with Gibbons in Liverpool.

There were widespread calls in Britain for Gibbons’ release. The Muslim Council of Britain calls upon the Sudanese government to intervene.

"This is a very unfortunate incident and Ms. Gibbons should never have been arrested in the first place. It is obvious that no malice was intended," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the council’s secretary-general.

British opposition Conservative party lawmaker William Hague called on the British government to "make it clear to the Sudanese authorities that she should be released immediately."

"To condemn Gillian Gibbons to such brutal and barbaric punishment for what appears to be an innocent mistake is clearly unacceptable," he said.

Omar Daair, spokesman for the British Embassy in Sudan, said embassy officials were in touch with Sudanese authorities and had met with Gibbons. He said he expected authorities to decide whether to bring her to court, and on what charges, within a few days.

"Her lawyer is trying to get her released on bail in the meanwhile," he said.

The case recalled the outrage that was sparked in the Islamic world when European newspapers ran cartoons deriding the Prophet Muhammad, prompting sometimes violent protests in many Muslim countries. The prophet is highly revered by Muslims, and most interpretations of the religion bar even favorable depictions of him, for fear of encouraging idolatry or misrepresenting him.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month suggested he would ban Denmark, Sweden and Norway - where newspapers ran the cartoons - from contributing engineering personnel to a planned U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Al-Bashir’s government already has tense relations with the West, which has widely condemned his regime for alleged abuses in Darfur where more than 200,000 people have died in a conflict that began in early 2003.


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  • 29 November 2007 02:52, by Mabil

    There was no need to put this woman to jail in the first place. For sure, what is thee crime here? If Muhammad was a true prophet of God or whatever he was, he won’t need any one to protect him from insults! Instead, he would deal with people of that kind eternally. Besides, he would be thee only one to decide whether Gillian has wronged him or not, and whether to forgive her? Above, she didn’t name the teddy bear but the little Muhammad did. But since prophet Muhammad has a lot of blind followers, they would always use their religious apathy to justice their idiotic actions. This crime and how it has been applied is just laughable. Hey Mujahadeens! You need to think twice 

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