Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case
The Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case concerns the 2007 arrest, trial, conviction, imprisonment and subsequent release of British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons, who taught middle-class Muslim and Christian children at Unity High School in Khartoum, Sudan.
Gillian Gibbons was born in 1953 and gained a Bachelor of Education degree from the CF Mott College of Education in Prescot in 1975 (the college closed in 1992). Teaching in a school in Sudan, she was arrested for allegedly insulting Islam by allowing her class of six-year-olds to name a teddy bear "Muhammad".
Initially it was thought that the complaint had originated from a parent of one of the children at the school. However, it was later revealed that an office assistant employed at the school, Sara Khawad, had filed the complaint and was the key witness for the prosecution. Khawad was said to be angry with the school's head teacher. "I was used by the secretary to get at the school", Gibbons told The Guardian shortly after her release.
Sudan's legal system is strongly influenced by sharia, which prohibits depictions of Muhammad and other prophets. However, many Muslim organizations in other countries publicly condemned the Sudanese over their reactions, as Gibbons did not set out to cause offence. The chairman of the Unity School council, Ezikiel Kondo, indicated that he perceived ulterior motives in the affair, "The thing may be very simple, but they just may make it bigger. It's a kind of blackmail."
Conviction and reaction
On 25 November 2007, Gibbons was arrested, interrogated and then put in a cell at a local police station. On 28 November, it was reported that she had been formally charged under Section 125 of the Sudanese Criminal Act, for "insulting religion, inciting hatred, sexual harassment, racism, prostitution and showing contempt for religious beliefs".[not in citation given] This carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment, a fine, or 40 lashes. On 29 November 2007, Gibbons was found guilty of "insulting religion;" one of the three counts against her, and was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment and deportation. The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organization of British Muslim groups, including MPACUK said the punishment was "completely unjustified" and that it was "appalled", and called on the Sudanese government to intervene.
On 30 November approximately 10,000 protesters took to the streets in Khartoum, some of them waving swords and machetes, demanding Gibbons's execution after imams denounced her during Friday prayers. During the march, chants of "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance – execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad" were heard. Witnesses reported that government employees were involved in inciting the protests. Gibbons was then moved to a secret location because of fears for her safety.
In an attempt to push for the release of Gibbons, two British Muslim peers (members of the House of Lords), Lord Ahmed (Labour) and Baroness Warsi (Conservative), visited Sudan with hopes of talking to the country's President Omar al-Bashir.
While the two British politicians were meeting the President on 3 December it was announced that Gibbons was to be released from prison having been granted a Presidential pardon. After eight days in jail, she was released into the care of the British embassy in Khartoum and then returned to Liverpool, after issuing a written statement saying: "I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone."
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|Wikinews has news coverage of the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case:|
- What can't be named Muhammad? (article), BBC exploring differing Arabic views on the use of the name Muhammad.
- Cader, Rushdi Abdul, Moderate Muslims must speak against treatment of teacher, San Luis Obispo (Muslim teddy bear).
- Morford, Mark (Dec 5, 2007), Let us kill all the teddy bears, The San Francisco Chronicle.