‘Teddy teacher’ pardoned

2007-12-04 00:00

Gillian Gibbons, sentenced on Thursday to 15 days in jail followed by deportation for insulting Islam, was pardoned after an appeal by two prominent British Muslims to Sudan’s president for her early release.

An adviser to Sudanese President Hassan al-Bashir, asked to confirm Gibbons had been pardoned, said: “Definitely, yes”.

Students waved flags and beat drums in protest outside the British embassy in Khartoum, following demonstrations on Friday, when sword-waving Islamists called for the teacher’s death.

Gibbons apologised after the pardon announcement for any discomfort she had caused to the people of Sudan. The British embassy said she was in its care.

“I have been in Sudan for only four months, but I have enjoyed myself immensely. I have encountered nothing but kindness and generosity from the Sudanese people,” she said in a statement, read by British Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, one of the peers who met Bashir.

“I have great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone. I am sorry if I caused any distress.”

A Sudanese presidential adviser said she was expected to leave Sudan yesterday. She was leaving for security reasons.

Gibbons prompted a complaint after she let her pupils at Khartoum’s private Unity High School pick their favourite name for a teddy bear as part of a project in September.

Twenty out of 23 of them chose Mohammad — a popular boy’s name in Sudan, as well as the name of Islam’s Prophet.

The two British peers, Warsi and Lord Ahmed, launched a private initiative to secure Gibbons’ early release. They delayed their departure after President Omar Hassan al-Bashir confirmed a last-minute meeting, following a two-day wait.

The staff of Unity High School where Gibbons worked shouted gleefully when they heard the news.

“Everybody is so happy, everyone is just laughing now,” Robert Boulos, head of the school, told Reuters.

He said Gibbons would be welcome to rejoin the teaching staff if she wanted. Gibbons had been suspended following a school investigation into the affair.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country has had poor relations with Sudan for several years, mainly due to the ongoing conflict in Darfur, said he was “delighted and relieved” to hear that Gibbons would be released shortly. — Reuters.

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