Teacher charged in teddy bear case

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May 17, 2005
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Lakeland, Florida
KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) -- A British teacher arrested in Sudan after allowing her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammed" has been charged by authorities with offending religion, British officials say.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, is being held by police in the capital Khartoum after she asked her class of seven-year-olds to come up with a name for the toy as part of a school project, Robert Boulos, the head of Unity High School told CNN.

It is expected that she will appear in court Thursday, Sudan state media reported.

A British Foreign Office spokeswoman said Gibbons had been charged under Article 125 of Sudan's constitution, the law relating to insulting religion and inciting hatred.

The spokeswoman said the Sudanese ambassador had been summoned to the offices of the British Foreign Secretary David Miliband to discuss the case. Gibbons was arrested under the country's Islamic Sharia law after parents of some of her students complained to police.

Under country's law, the offense is punishable with 40 lashes, a jail term of up to a year or a fine.

Khalid Mubarak, the media counselor at the Sudan embassy in London, said the judicial process was taking its course but added that even if Gibbons was found guilty "the question of punishment is a long way off."

"This woman is being dealt with in the proper ways in accordance with the laws of our country," he told CNN.

He said he was concerned about how the latest developments would affect Sudan's relationship with Britain.

"This is a worry for us. We have already received abusive phone calls to our offices in London," he said.

Gibbons' arrest was announced in Arabic on the state-run news agency's Web site. No-one from Sudan's government has so far commented on the decision.

It is not known how long the court process will take or the type of court the hearing will take place in.

Although there is no ban in the Koran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims.

Gibbons had been working at the school -- popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates -- since August, after leaving her position as deputy head teacher at a primary school in Liverpool this summer, said Boulos.

He said Gibbons had asked the children to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats.

Classmates took turns taking the teddy bear home with them, accompanied by a diary with the bear's name written in the front of it, said Boulos, who heads the private school, which has been shut down since the controversy came to light.

"All this is a very sensitive area. I asked her (Gibbons) why she had done it and she said she didn't chose the name, the children did," he told CNN.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday he was "very sorry" about Gibbons' arrest and that the British Embassy in Khartoum was "giving all appropriate consular assistance to her."

Brown said all efforts were being taken to ensure her early release and that government officials were in touch with the teacher's family in the northern British city of Liverpool.

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Its so crazy but I would have never named it that knowing how people feel about stuff like that.


A Sudanese court found her guilty of inciting religious hatred and sentenced her to 15 days imprisonment Thursday for allowing a teddy bear to be named "Mohammed," British authorities and her lawyer reported.

Gillian Gibbons also faces deportation from Sudan after her prison term, her lawyer told CNN. He said he was "very disappointed" with the verdict and that Gibbons planned to appeal.

well I am in two minds about this. I think it's an absolute disgrace that they should be allowed to have such laws and I am completely against lashes as a form of punishment - however, this woman must have known the laws of that country or at the very least know that lashes and the death sentence were still possible there? I would never agree to work or live in a country that in my view, was violating basic human rights as a part of their legal system.

But still! how ridiculous!