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British teddy teacher pardoned

Teacher Gillian Gibbons is to be released from prison in Sudan after she was jailed for allowing children in her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad. Mrs Gibbons was jailed for 15 days by a court in Sudan.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir pardoned her after a meeting with two British Muslim peers – Lord Ahmed and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

In a statement, Mrs Gibbons said "I am sorry if I caused any distress".

Mrs Gibbons is expected to be released later today (Monday) and flown back to the UK.  It comes after several thousand Muslims marched in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Sunday, calling for a tougher sentence.

According to news agencies, some of the protesters chanted: "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance – execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".  The hardline Khartoum protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.  But Muslims elsewhere expressed horror and sadness at the treatment of Ms Gibbons, condemning also some sensationalist reporting in the tabloids.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in Britain and Ireland, had said it was "deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

The federation’s president, Ali Alhadithi, said: "What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings, and the delicacies of the matter demonstrate that it was not the intention of Gillian Gibbons to imply any offence against Islam or Muslims. We hope that the Sudanese authorities will take immediate action to secure a safe release for Gillian Gibbons."

In September 2007, Ms Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.  The court heard that she was arrested after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

Ekklesia www.ekklesia.co.uk (This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 England &  2.0 England & Wales License)