Khartoum death calls for British 'teddy' teacher condemned

By staff writers
December 1, 2007

Several thousand Muslims marched in Sudan's capital Khartoum yesterday, calling for a tougher sentence for a British teacher imprisoned for insulting religion by allowing a six-year old to name his teddy bear Muhammad.

Ms Gillian Gibbons, aged 54, from Liverpool, was jailed for 15 days on 29 November 2007. Her lawyer said she was later moved for her own safety.

According to news agencies, some of the protesters chanted: "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".

Muslim Labour peer Lord Ahmed is on his way to Sudan to push for her release, travelling at the invitation of the Sudanese government. Accompanied by the Conservatives' Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, he hopes to meet Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and the chief justice.

The hardline Khartoum protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.

But Muslims elsewhere have expressed horror and sadness at the treatment of Ms Gibbons, condemning also some sensationalist reporting in the tabloids.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in Britain and Ireland, said it was "deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

The federation's president, Ali Alhadithi, said: "What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings, and the delicacies of the matter demonstrate that it was not the intention of Gillian Gibbons to imply any offence against Islam or Muslims. We hope that the Sudanese authorities will take immediate action to secure a safe release for Gillian Gibbons."

In September 2007, Ms Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.

The court heard that she was arrested on Sunday after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

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