British Teacher Gillian Gibbons Released In Sudan
By Tendai Maphosa
British Teacher Released in Sudan
A British schoolteacher sentenced to 15 days in jail in Sudan for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammed has been released hours after receiving a pardon from Sudan's president. Gillian Gibbons is expected to fly out of Khartoum for home Monday.
Gibbons angered Sudan's Muslim authorities when her pupils named a teddy bear Mohammed. Under Islamic Sharia law, the authorities said, this was an insult to the Islamic prophet.
A complaint by a fellow staff member at the school where she taught led to her arrest. Sudan's top clerics described her actions as part of a Western plot against Islam and called for the maximum sentence under Sharia law. Gibbons could have received 40 lashes or a six-month jail sentence.
After her sentencing last week, hundreds of Sudanese demonstrated for a stiffer sentence, with some calling for her to be beheaded.
Gibbons' arrest resulted in a tense standoff between Sudan and Britain. It was also widely condemned by British Muslims. Her release follows the intervention of two Muslim peers, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi who traveled to Khartoum to negotiate with the Sudanese authorities.
The breakthrough came Monday morning after the two met with President Omar al-Bashir. After securing Gibbons' pardon, Lord Ahmed addressed the media.
"As British parliamentarians, we Baroness Warsi and myself, we feel proud that we have been able to secure Gillian Gibbons' release," he said. "Modern Britain is multicultural, multi-religious. We have two million Muslims. We have 1,400 mosques and we have ten Muslim parliamentarians. All religions are respected."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown expressed his gratitude to the Foreign Office and the two Muslim peers for their efforts to get Gibbons released.
"To imprison Gillian Gibbons was completely unacceptable and there's been outrage around the world and I am grateful to the two members of the House of Lords," he said.
In a statement read on her behalf by Baroness Warsi, Gibbons expressed her respect for Islam. She said she would not knowingly offend anyone and apologized for any distress she might have caused. She is expected back in Britain late on Monday after her release and deportation from Sudan.