Naming a teddy bear Muhammad may be insensitive to the Muslim religion, but does this transgression rise to the level that it could be considered criminal? I think not!
From Times Online
November 29, 2007
British teacher sentenced to 15 days in Sudan jail
Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher who allowed her class to name their teddy bear Mohamed, has been sentenced to 15 days in jail followed by deportation from Sudan.
Her lawyers announced that Ms Gibbons was found guilty of insulting Islam. The 54-year-old former Liverpool primary school teacher had faced a maximum penalty of 40 lashes and a six-month jail sentence.
Tonight David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said he was “extremely disappointed” with the sentence and summoned Omer Siddig, the Sudanese ambassador to London, to the Foreign and Commnwealth Office (FCO) to make Britain’s position clear.
“We are extremely disappointed that the charges against Gillian Gibbons were not dismissed,” said Mr Miliband.
“As I said this morning our clear view is that this is an innocent misunderstanding by a dedicated teacher.
“Our priority now is to ensure Ms Gibbons welfare and we will continue to provide consular assistance to her.
“I have called in the Sudanese ambassador to explain this decision and discuss next steps.”
Beyond summoning the ambassador the Government is not expected to take any further serious action.
The entire judicial process was completed within a single day with reporters and British consular officials banned from the courtroom. . After a short delay this morning, the case got under way in late afternoon.
Ms Gibbons has already spent five days in prison and is expected to serve out her sentence in the Omdurman women’s prison near Khartoum.
Robert Boulos, the director of the Unity High School that employed her, declared it “a very fair verdict”.
Ms Gibbons had been held in the modern, air-conditioned Khartoum courthouse since shortly after dawn. Witnesses said she looked dazed and tired as police led her to the dock. She wore a black blazer and a blue skirt and her head was uncovered.
Earlier in the day the Foreign Secretary had relayed British concerns to Sudan at the “highest level”.
After summoning the Sudanese Ambassador to the Foreign Office, David Miliband told him that Britain was “very concerned” at the decision to charge Ms Gibbons for allowing her class of seven-year-olds in Khartoum to name their bear after the Islamic prophet.
Britain had put diplomatic pressure on Sudan to release Mrs Gibbons swiftly. In a statement issued after his meeting with Mr Siddig this afternoon, Mr Miliband said: “I explained to him that we were very concerned by the case. We believe that this was an innocent misunderstanding.”
The Foreign Secretary said that he had reaffirmed to the Ambassador “that the British Government fully respects the faith of Islam and Britain has a long-standing tradition of religious tolerance”.
He added: “The Sudanese Ambassador undertook to ensure our concerns were relayed to Khartoum at the highest level. He also said he would reflect back to Khartoum the real respect for the Islamic religion in this country.”
Before the meeting Mr Miliband told reporters at the Foreign Office that he would make his displeasure clear. “This is not a political dispute, it is about an innocent person who was making a contribution to Sudanese society,” said Mr Miliband.
“It is right that I make clear, from the top of the Foreign Office, our concern. We want to see her freed as soon as possible. This is a human story, no malice is involved. Her security and welfare are absolutely at the forefront of our concerns.”
Meanwhile, Gordon Brown confirmed today that he had spoken to a close member of Mrs Gibbons’s family. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “He reassured them that all available assistance would be made available.”
British consular officials expressed their frustration that they have so far not been allowed to see or talk to her. “We would have expected to be allowed to be in court,” said one.
This morning Sudanese justice officials arrived so early at the Criminal Exploration Bureau where Mrs Gibbons has been held for the past two nights that her transfer to court took place virtually unnoticed. When staff from the British consulate arrived at the bureau to see her, they were told that she had already left. They jumped back into their vehicles and headed off quickly to the court.
Mrs Gibbons, a mother of two, was arrested on Sunday at Unity High School, an exclusive British-run institution favoured by the Sudanese elite, after a complaint was lodged. In a bid to teach the children about animals, Mrs Gibbons had introduced a class teddy bear that each child would take home for the weekend in turn and allowed them to choose its name by a class vote.
But when the children chose the name Mohamed, after one of the most popular pupils in the class, a complaint was lodged with the ministry of education that it was blasphemous.
Mrs Gibbons’ arrest has provoked outrage among politicians, clerics and leaders of the British Muslim community, who rallied to her defence, but Islamic militants in Sudan have protested against her actions and demanded a maximum sentence for her crimes.