Toy bear blasphemy case 'overblown': Sudan official
U.K. teacher likely to be released soon, Sudanese embassy spokesman says
Sudanese authorities will likely release a British teacher arrested for allowing her young pupils to name a teddy bear "Muhammad," a spokesman for the Sudanese embassy in London said Tuesday.
Describing the incident as "minute" and "overblown," embassy spokesman Khalid al Mubarak told the BBC he expected Gillian Gibbons to be cleared of all charges beforethe incidentgets to the stage where Gibbons faces a fine, six months in jail, or 40 lashes for the offence of religious abuse.
"My impression is that the whole thing could probably be settled amicably long before we reach stages like these," he said, referring to the potential punishments.
"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 stands accused of naming the stuffed animal after Islam's prophet and founder — an offence that some hard-line Muslims believe constitutes blasphemy.
The 54-year-old teacher heads a class of seven-year-old students at the Unity High School in Khartoum. Since her arrest on Sunday following a complaint from a student's parent, Gibbons has claimed she meant no harm against Islam when she asked one student to bring in her toy bear for a project about animals.
According to school officials, the children proposed three names — Muhammad, Abdullah, or Hassan — and then settled together on Muhammad following a vote.
School director Robert Boulos told the BBC that each student was encouraged to bring the bear home on weekends and write entries for a common diary sharing what they did with the bear that week. Boulos said the book's cover bore a photo of the teddy bear and that it was labelled "My Name is Muhammad," although that name was never written anywhere on the toy itself.
'Brutal and barbaric punishment'
The Sudanese government issued its first official comment on the case Tuesday, playing down the significance of the incident as "isolated, despite our condemnation and rejection of it."
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ali al-Sadez noted the school had apologized for the incident but still characterized the case as one about a "teacher's misconduct against the Islamic faith."
Roughly 90 per cent of the student body at the English-language Unity High School is Muslim, mostly from upper-class Sudanese families.
Meanwhile in Britain, the political opposition called on the government to demand Gibson's immediate release.
"To condemn Gillian Gibbons to such brutal and barbaric punishment for what appears to be an innocent mistake is clearly unacceptable," Conservative party lawmaker William Hague said.
Omar Daair, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Sudan, said embassy officials were in touch with Gibbons and that her lawyer was trying to get her released on bail.
With files from the Associated Press