British teacher 'sorry to leave' Sudan
A British teacher jailed in Sudan for letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammad said Tuesday she "had a fabulous time" in the country despite her weeklong incarceration and protesters'calls for her execution.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, returned to her home country Tuesday morning afterreceiving apardon from Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. She was greeted by her two adult children as she arrived at London's Heathrow Airport shortly after 7 a.m. local time (2 a.m. ET).
At a news conference at Heathrow after her arrival, a smilingGibbonstold reporters she was treated well in prison and hadfond memories of the country despite her ordeal.
"I went out there for a bit of adventure, but I got a bit more adventure than I bargained for,"Gibbons said.
"I am very sorry to leave Sudan. I had a fabulous time," she said. "It is a beautiful place and I had a chance to see some of the countryside. The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind and generous and until this happened I only had a good experience."
Held at secret location
Gibbons was freed after two Muslim members of Britain's House of Lords met with al-Bashir and the teacher sent the president a statement saying she didn't mean to offend anyone with her class project.
Shehad been held at a secret location in Sudan since several thousand Sudanese— some brandishing swords and clubs— massed in central Khartoum on Friday after her trial to demand that she be put to death for blasphemy.
Gibbonssaid she was looking forward tospending Christmas withher family and friends at her home in Liverpool.
Gibbons was arrested Nov. 25 andsentenced to 15 days in prison and deportation under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law for having the teddy bear project for her class of seven-year-olds at the private Unity High School.
She could have been punished with up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine.
In the project, she had a student bring in a teddy bear, then asked her pupils to vote on a name for it. They chose Muhammad, a common name among Muslim men. The students took the bear home individually to write diary entries on it, which were then compiled into a book with the bear's picture on it and the title "My Name is Muhammad," school officials said.
The trial was sparked when a school secretary complained to the Education Ministry that Gibbons aimed to insult Islam's prophet.
Gibbons's defenders said the project was a common one in British schools. But hardline Muslim clerics in Sudandenounced Gibbons, saying she intentionally aimed to insult their faith.
What Britain and Gibbons's supporters said was a misunderstanding over the teddy bear quicklyescalated into a diplomatic flap between London and Khartoum — and the show of outrage in Sudan that puzzled many in the West.
The incident was the latest in a tense relationship between the West and al-Bashir, an Islamic hardliner who has been accused by the United Nations of dragging his feet on the deployment of peacekeepers to the country's wartorn Darfur region.
Al-Bashir insisted Gibbons had a fair trial, in which she was convicted of insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad, but the president agreed to pardon her during the meeting with the British delegation, said Ghazi Saladdin, a senior presidential adviser.
With files from the Associated Press