KHARTOUM — Two Muslim members of Britain’s House of Lords were in Khartoum on Saturday, December 1, on a personal mission to seek the release of a British woman teacher jailed for what Sudanese officials say insulting Islam after her pupils gave a teddy bear the same name of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).“Any efforts which complement the efforts which we are making to secure Mrs Gibbons’ release are very welcome,” A Foreign Office spokesman told the Guardian.
Labour’s Lord Ahmed, a Pakistani-born businessman who became Britain’s first Muslim peer in 1998, and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a lawyer and member of the Conservatives’ shadow cabinet, were to meet with Sudanese officials in a bid to free Gillian Gibbons, 54, who was jailed for 15 days on Thursday, November 29.
“They have arrived and they have a series of meetings lined up, including with the president,” a source close to the Sudanese government told Reuters.
“An appeal from a fellow Muslim could have an impact,” said the source, who added that the peers have asked to meet Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir.
The mother-of-two teacher was sentenced on Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation from Sudan for insulting Islam.
Gibbons let her seven-year-old pupils at Khartoum’s private Unity High School pick their favourite name for a teddy bear as part of a class project in September. Twenty out of 23 of them chose Mohammad — a popular boy’s name in Sudan and the Muslim world, as well as the name of Islam’s Prophet.
Gibbons circulated a letter to parents, telling them that the children would be bringing the teddy bear home at weekends as part of the exercise. Two months later, a member of the school staff handed the letter to Sudan’s ministry of education. Under Sudan’s penal code, she could have faced 40 lashes, a fine or up to a year in jail.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has called in the Sudanese ambassador to London twice for talks on the issue, underlining that Gibbons’ actions were the result of an “innocent misunderstanding.”
Gibbons has told her son John, 27, that her detention ordeal should not be taken as an excuse to smear Islam or Muslims, the Guardian said on Saturday.
“One of the things my mum said today was that ‘I don’t want any resentment towards Muslim people’”, he said.
“She doesn’t want people using her and her case as something to stoke up resentment towards anyone, towards Sudanese people, towards Muslim people or whatever.”
Teddy Row Teacher Freed After Intervention by British Muslim Lawmakers
BBC News, December 3, 2007
A UK teacher has been released and handed over to British officials in Sudan after being jailed for letting her class name a teddy bear Muhammad. Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, was freed after eight days in custody. She had been given a 15-day jail term.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir pardoned her after talks with two British Muslim peers.
In a statement, Mrs Gibbons apologised for “any distress”. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was “delighted”.
Mother-of-two Mrs Gibbons has been released into the care of the British embassy in Khartoum, but her exact location has not been disclosed.
She was released four days after receiving a 15-day sentence for insulting religion.
Following her release, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the teacher was “a little overwhelmed” at the attention her case had attracted, but was in “remarkably good spirits” and “elated to be back on her way home”.
Mr Miliband also hailed the “team effort” which led to Mrs Gibbons’s release, praising diplomatic staff and saying that the intervention of Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed had been “an important contribution”.