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KHARTOUM, Sudan - A British teacher has been charged with inciting hatred, insulting religion and showing contempt of religious beliefs after her class named a teddy bear Muhammad, state media said on Wednesday.

"Khartoum north prosecution unit has completed its investigation and has charged the Briton Gillian (Gibbons) under Article 125 of the criminal code," SUNA said quoting a senior Justice Ministry official.

It added the file would go before court on Thursday.

In London, a British Foreign Office spokesman confirmed that Gibbons had been charged and officials said Foreign Secretary David Miliband was calling in the Sudanese ambassador over the affair.

"We are surprised and disappointed by this development and the foreign secretary will summon as a matter of urgency the Sudanese ambassador to discuss this matter further," Prime Minister Gordon Brown's official spokesman said.

Earlier on Wednesday, three British embassy officials and a teaching colleague from the Unity High School where Gibbons worked were allowed to visit her for 90 minutes.

"I can confirm that we have met Ms. Gibbons and she said she is being treated well," said British consul Russell Phillips. "We remain in close contact with the Sudanese authorities on this case," he said, declining to give further details.

Gibbons was arrested Sunday and, if found guilty of insulting religion, could be punished with a whipping of up to 40 lashes, a fine or six months in prison.

On Tuesday, a Sudanese embassy spokesman in London had indicated Gibbons might soon be freed.

"The police is bound to investigate," embassy spokesman Khalid al-Mubarak told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. "I am pretty certain that this minute incident will be clarified very quickly and this teacher who has been helping us with the teaching of children will be safe and will be cleared."

Gibbons was arrested after one of her pupils' parents complained, accusing her of naming the bear after Islam's prophet and founder. Muhammad is a common name among Muslim men, but giving the prophet's name to an animal would be seen as insulting by many Muslims.

School apologizes
Several Sudanese newspapers ran a statement Tuesday reportedly from Unity High School saying the administration "offers an official apology to the students and their families and all Muslims for what came from an individual initiative." It said Gibbons had been "removed from her work at the school."

In the first official comment on the case, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry on Tuesday played down the significance of the case, calling it "isolated despite our condemnation and rejection of it."

Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadeq said it was an incidence of a "teacher's misconduct against the Islamic faith" but noted the school's apology.

The statement from the school in newspapers called it a "misunderstanding." It underlined the school's "deep respect for the heavenly religions" and for the "beliefs of Muslims and their rituals," adding that "the misunderstanding that has been raised over this issue leads to divisions that are disadvantageous to the reputation of the tolerant Sudanese people."

The school has closed for at least the next week until the controversy eases. The Unity High School, a private English-language school with elementary to high school levels, was founded by Christian groups, but 90 percent of its students are Muslim, mostly from upper-class Sudanese families.

The school's director, Robert Boulos, told the BBC that the incident was "a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

Children reportedly chose name
Gibbons, 54, was teaching her pupils, who are around age 7, about animals and asked one of them to bring in her teddy bear, Boulos said. She asked the students to pick names for it and they proposed Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad, and in the end the pupils voted to name it Muhammad, he said.

Each child was allowed to take the bear home on weekends and write a diary about what they did with it. The diary entries were collected in a book with the bear's picture on the cover, labeled, "My Name is Muhammad," he said. The bear itself was never labeled with the name, he added.

A former colleague of Gibbons, Jill Langworthy, told The Associated Press the diary lesson is a common one in Britain.

"She's a wonderful and inspirational teacher, and if she offended or insulted anybody she'd be dreadfully sorry," said Langworthy, who taught with Gibbons in Liverpool.

There were widespread calls in Britain for Gibbons' release. The Muslim Council of Britain calls upon the Sudanese government to intervene.

"This is a very unfortunate incident and Ms. Gibbons should never have been arrested in the first place. It is obvious that no malice was intended," said Muhammad Abdul Bari, the council's secretary-general.

British opposition Conservative party lawmaker William Hague called on the British government to "make it clear to the Sudanese authorities that she should be released immediately."

"To condemn Gillian Gibbons to such brutal and barbaric punishment for what appears to be an innocent mistake is clearly unacceptable," he said.

Follows cartoon incident
The case recalled the outrage that was sparked in the Islamic world when European newspapers ran cartoons deriding the Prophet Muhammad, prompting sometimes violent protests in many Muslim countries. The prophet is highly revered by Muslims, and most interpretations of the religion bar even favorable depictions of him, for fear of encouraging idolatry or misrepresenting him.

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir earlier this month suggested he would ban Denmark, Sweden and Norway — where newspapers ran the cartoons — from contributing engineering personnel to a planned U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in the Sudanese region of Darfur.

Al-Bashir's government already has tense relations with the West, which has widely condemned his regime for alleged abuses in Darfur where more than 200,000 people have died in a conflict that began in early 2003.


Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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replied November 29th, 2007
Extremely eHealthy
She's Guilty
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KHARTOUM, Sudan - A British teacher in Sudan was convicted Thursday of inciting religious hatred for letting her pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad, and she was sentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation to Britain, one of her lawyers said.

Gillian Gibbons could have received 40 lashes and six months in prison in the case.

In London, the Foreign Office said it was “extremely disappointed with the sentence,” adding that Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned the Sudanese ambassador to explain the verdict.

In Washington, the White House called it an outrage. "Any one looking at this at the face would have to conclude this is outrageous," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters.

Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday after complaints to the Education Ministry that she had insulted the prophet Muhammad, the most revered figure in Islam, by applying his name to a teddy bear.

“The judge found Gillian Gibbons guilty and sentenced her to 15 days jail and deportation,” said Ali Mohammed Hajab, a member of her defense team.

Robert Boulos, director of the Unity High School where Gibbons taught, noted that since she had already spent five days in prison, she would have to serve only 10 more.

“It’s a very fair verdict, she could have had six months and lashes and a fine, and she only got 15 days and deportation,” Boulos said. He added that the verdict would not be appealed.

Gibbons is expected to serve her sentence in the Omdurman women’s prison near Khartoum.

According to NBC News, Gibbons started teaching in Sudan only a short time ago.

British diplomats barred from court
Gibbons, in a dark blue jacket and blue dress, was not handcuffed when she walked into the courtroom in Khartoum, according to reporters who were briefly allowed inside but were subsequently dismissed.

Although hearings in Sudan are usually public, the police cordon barred British diplomats and others from entering.

Gibbons’ chief defense lawyer, Kamal Djizouri, scuffled with a tight police cordon before he was allowed in.

Djizouri said he would argue her case based on Islamic Sharia law and show there was “absolutely no intention to insult religion, and for blasphemy to take place there must be an insult.”

Gibbons was teaching her pupils, who are around age 7, about animals, and asked one of them to bring in her teddy bear, according to Robert Boulos, a spokesman for Unity High School in Khartoum.

Gibbons asked the students to pick names for it and they proposed Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad, and in September, the pupils voted to name it Muhammad, he said.

Each child was allowed to take the bear home on weekends and write a diary about what they did with it. The diary entries were collected in a book with the bear’s picture on the cover, labeled, “My Name is Muhammad,” he said. The bear itself was never labeled with the name, he added.

Muhammad is a common name among Muslim men, but giving the prophet’s name to an animal would be seen as insulting by many Muslims.

Episcopalian Bishop Ezekiel Kondo, Gibbons’ employer said he was at the court “as a witness to testify that she never intended to insult any religion,” but he was also barred from entering.

The case set up an escalating diplomatic dispute with Britain, Sudan’s former colonial ruler. British and American Muslim groups also criticized the decision.

In London, Foreign Secretary David Miliband said, "There is an innocent misunderstanding at the heart of this, not a criminal offense."

A spokesman at the Sudanese Embassy in London had earlier said he did not think Gibbons would be convicted.

“Mrs. Gibbons has consular support, the British Embassy has one of the best solicitors in the country, whom I know personally,” said Khalid al Mubarak.

Clerics pushed for punishment
Officials in Sudan’s Foreign Ministry have tried to play down the case, calling it an isolated incident and initially predicting Gibbons could be released without charge.

But hard-liners have considerable weight in the government of President Omar al-Bashir, which came to power in a 1989 military coup saying it wanted to create an Islamic state.

The country’s top Muslim clerics pressed the government to ensure that she is punished, comparing her action to author Salman Rushdie’s “blasphemies” against the Prophet Muhammad.

The British novelist was accused of blasphemy by many Muslims for his 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses,” which had a character seen as a reference to the prophet. Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie’s death.

The north of Sudan bases its legal code on Islamic Sharia law, and al-Bashir often seeks to burnish his religious credentials.

Last year, he vowed to lead a jihad, or holy war, against U.N. peacekeepers if they deployed in the Darfur region of western Sudan. He relented this year to allow a U.N.-African Union force there, but this month said he would bar Scandinavian peacekeepers from participating because newspapers in their countries ran caricatures of Prophet Muhammad last year.


The Associated Press and NBC News' Dawn Friesen contributed to this report.
URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22007049/?GT1= 10547



Hard to respect a religion when it's represented by this malarky.
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replied November 30th, 2007
Especially eHealthy
I wonder if the children who voted to name the bear Muhammed are being arrested as well?
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replied November 30th, 2007
Supporter
Not quite sure where I stand on this one. If she were in Israel and named a teddy bear Yahweh, she'd create a huge uproar, or if she went into an evangelical Christian school and named the teddy bear Jesus Christ.

She was teaching in a Muslim school in SUDAN. She should know better.

On the same token, I personally agree that she shouldn't be arrested for something like that.
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replied November 30th, 2007
Extremely eHealthy
Well, she probably should have known better, but didn't she let the children vote for the name? No she certainly should not be arrested for this.
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replied November 30th, 2007
Most Diplomatic Poster
half the muslims i know are named mohammed. maybe she should have explained to them that the bear is muslim too then this all could have been avoided.

seriously though, it's a pretty violent country. religion is wasted on the religious if you ask me.
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replied December 2nd, 2007
Especially eHealthy
SHE didn't name the bear anything, the children did. Arrest and freaking whip them, eh? I freaking hate the violent aspect of Islam. It's why I cannot respect it.
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replied December 4th, 2007
Especially eHealthy
marvel wrote:
or if she went into an evangelical Christian school and named the teddy bear Jesus Christ.

.


there would not be uproar for that! I know she would not be sentanced in this country for that
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