Windsor Humanist Society

November 29, 2007

British Exchange-Teacher in Sudan Faces Flogging, Jail for Insulting Islam, Inciting Religious Hatred by Allowing Teddy Bear to be Named “Mohammed”

Filed under: Uncategorized — moderator @ 5:25 pm

Sudan charged a British teacher on Wednesday with insulting Islam and inciting religious hatred by allowing young pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammed, offences that could see the mother of two flogged and jailed if convicted.

Gillian GibbonsBritain swiftly announced that it was summoning the Sudanese ambassador in London for talks at the Foreign Office as the case threatened to escalate into a full-blown diplomatic row.

“The investigation has been completed and the Briton Gillian Gibbons was charged under Article 125 of the penal code,” Deputy Justice Minister Abdel Daim Zamrawi told Sudan’s official SUNA news agency.

“The punishment for this is jail, a fine and lashes. It is up to the judge to determine the sentence,” Mr. Zamrawi was quoted as saying.

Gillian Gibbons has been in custody for three days after being arrested in Khartoum because parents complained that in allowing pupils at an expensive English school to name the bear Mohammed she was insulting the Muslim Prophet.

The sentence for breaching Article 125 of the penal code — publicly insulting or degrading any religion, its rites, beliefs and sacred items or humiliating its believers — is up to six months in jail, 40 lashes and a fine.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Ms. Gibbons had been charged with “insulting religion and inciting religious hatred.”

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s office said Foreign Secretary David Miliband wanted to see the Sudanese ambassador “as a matter of urgency.”

The purpose of the meeting was “so we can get a clear explanation for the rationale behind the charges and a sense of what the next steps might be,” he said. “We will consider our response in the light of that.”

The private school teacher, who has been moved to the criminal investigation department in Khartoum, told British consular officials who visited her on Wednesday for a second time that she was being treated well.

“Our consulate went to visit her this morning. She said she was OK and treated well,”
an embassy spokesman told Agence France-Presse, adding that British officials are in “close discussion with the Sudanese authorities.”

Mr. Zamrawi said Ms. Gibbons was being held in good conditions and added that her relatives could visit, despite a reported complaint from her ex-husband in a British tabloid that the family had not been allowed to go to Sudan.

“She is in a room and she has all the necessary things. She has seen her lawyer and is brought food. She has basic rights. For us, she is innocent until her guilt has been proved… Her relatives can visit her,” Mr. Zamrawi told AFP.

When asked if the authorities feared that releasing Ms. Gibbons could expose her to angry mobs, he said: “We are taking all these things into account… We don’t want to expose her to any unsafe conditions.”

Ms. Gibbons, in her 50s, is being held at the criminal investigation department and has been provided with an interpreter when necessary, the embassy said.

Sudan’s education ministry will also conduct an inquiry into the Christian run Unity High School, where Ms. Gibbons taught since leaving England in July, to determine whether it was guilty of a cover-up, Mr. Zamrawi said.

Ms. Gibbons allowed boys and girls as young as six to name the bear Mohammed several months ago. Ms.  Gibbons has said she never meant to cause offence.

The Sudanese embassy in London said the affair could still be resolved amicably — but underlined the cultural differences behind the decision to charge the teacher.

“We still say that it can be resolved in an amicable way through a fair hearing and fair investigation and fair legal system,” embassy spokesman Khalid al-Mubarak told the BBC.

“But a teddy bear in your culture is different from a teddy bear in our culture,” he added.

“In our culture a teddy bear is a wild and dangerous animal. It’s not something to be cuddled by children before they sleep.”

A leading British Muslim took issue with that interpretation however saying that “appalled” at the decision to charge Ms. Gibbons over what had clearly been an innocent mistake.

“This is a disgraceful decision and defies common sense,” said the head of The Muslim Council of Britain, Muhammad Abdul Bari.

“There was clearly no intention on the part of the teacher to deliberately insult the Islamic faith.”
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…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Hodgins, after a November 29, 2007 article by Mohamed Hasni via AFP (Agence France-Presse)

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2 Comments »

  1. Follow-up as reported by Opheera McDoom via a November 30, 2007 article in The Windsor Star

    British teacher accused of insulting Islam by naming teddy bear Mohammad, jailed in Sudan

    A British teacher accused of insulting Muslims after her class called a teddy bear Mohammad was found guilty and sentenced to 15 days in jail on Thursday, her defence team said. Gillian Gibbons, 54, was also ordered to be deported. “She was found guilty of insulting religion and the sentence is 15 days (in jail) and deportation,” a member of the defence team Ali Ajib said after the trial in a Khartoum courtroom, which lasted less than a day.

    In London, Britain’s foreign minister said he was “extremely disappointed” with the verdict and called in the Sudanese ambassador for an immediate explanation.

    Another defence lawyer said Ms. Gibbons had already served five days of her sentence since her arrest on Sunday and she may not have to serve all the remaining 10 days. The judge said she could leave once she had a compulsory exit visa, they said.

    Ms. Gibbons was charged on Wednesday with insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs because of the toy’s name. Under Sudan’s penal code, she could have faced 40 lashes, a fine, or up to one year in jail.

    Robert Boulos, head of Unity high school where Ms. Gibbons worked, said: “We are happy with the verdict. It is fair. There were a lot of political pressures and attention.” He added: “We will be very sad to lose her.” Asked what he thought of the verdict, the head of Ms. Gibbons’s defence team, Kamal al-Jazouli, said: “It was not bad.”

    The court finished the trial the day before Friday prayers, when protests were expected in the streets of Khartoum.

    In court, Judge Esmat Mohammed Youssef heard from the chief prosecutor and four witnesses from the prosecution. But the defence decided to rest after just two witnesses and Ms. Gibbons’s own testimony, convinced of the clarity of their case.

    Teachers at the school say that calling the teddy bear Mohammad, the name of the prophet of Islam, was not her idea in the first place and that no parents objected when Ms. Gibbons sent parents circulars about a reading project which included the teddy bear as a fictional participant.

    Ms. Gibbons, wearing a long dark blue skirt and black blazer, looked bewildered as she entered the court on Thursday.

    Comment by moderator — November 30, 2007 @ 5:10 pm | Reply

  2. Follow-up as reported by Andrew Heavens via a December 1, 2007 article in Reuters

    Muslims demand death for teacher: “..No-one Lives Who Insults The Prophet!..”

    Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, waving green Islamic flags, took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday demanding death for the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Muhammad.

    “No one lives who insults the Prophet,” the protesters chanted, a day after school teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation from Sudan.

    In a bid to secure her early release, Lord Ahmed, a Muslim peer from Britain’s ruling Labour party in the House of Lords upper house, left London on Friday.

    He was accompanied by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, from the opposition Conservative Party. They were invited to Khartoum by the Sudanese government.

    At least 1,000 protesters shook their fists or waved banners or ceremonial swords and chanted religious and nationalist slogans after leaving Muslim Friday prayers. Banners called for “punishment” for Ms. Gibbons, and some protesters burned newspapers that contained pictures of the teacher. Several hundred protesters made a brief stop at the closed but heavily guarded Unity high school, where Ms. Gibbons worked, but did not attempt to go inside. The school was guarded by five truckloads of police in riot gear.

    The protesters marched from there to the British embassy where several hundred surrounded the ambassador’s residence, chanting religious slogans. There were no reports of violence.

    Ms. Gibbons was charged on Wednesday with insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs because the class toy had been given the same name as the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

    Under Sudan’s penal code, she could have faced 40 lashes, a fine or up to a year in jail. But Ms. Gibbons was convicted only of insulting religion. Teachers at her school say that calling the teddy bear Muhammad was not Ms. Gibbons’ idea and that no parents objected when she sent circulars about a reading project that included the bear, introduced in September, as a fictional participant.

    A spokesman for the British embassy in Khartoum said that the British consul and deputy ambassador had seen Ms. Gibbons on Friday and that she was well, but gave no clue as to where she was being held.

    Comment by moderator — December 2, 2007 @ 12:36 pm | Reply


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