Jailed teddy bear teacher to return to UK

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The Independent Online

British teacher Gillian Gibbons was today preparing to fly home from her ordeal in a Sudanese jail after being pardoned.

Mrs Gibbon, found guilty of insulting Islam after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear Mohammed, was taken to the British embassy after her release.



A spokesman said "security reasons" prevented them saying when she would leave Sudan.



Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir pardoned Mrs Gibbons, a 54-year-old mother of two from Liverpool, after two British Muslim politicians from the House of Lords met him to plea for her release.



In a statement after her pardon, Mrs Gibbons said she did not intend to offend anyone and stressed that she had great respect for Islam.



Lord Nazir Ahmed, who met President al-Bashir along with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, said the case was an "unfortunate misunderstanding" and stressed that Britain respected Islam.



He hoped "the relations between our two countries will not be damaged by this incident".



A spokesman said President al-Bashir insisted that Mrs Gibbons had a "fair trial," but he agreed to pardon her because of the efforts by the British Muslim delegation.



It was unclear when she will leave Sudan. Earlier today a Sudanese presidential spokesman said she would "fly back to England today."



Mrs Gibbons was sentenced under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law last Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation for insulting Islam because she allowed her students to name a class teddy bear Mohammed, seen as a reference to Islam's most revered figure, the Prophet Mohammed.



In her statement today she said she was sorry if she caused any "distress."



"I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone.



"I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I am very sorry that I will be unable to return to Sudan."



The teacher escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Her time in jail since her arrest last Sunday counted toward the sentence.



During her trial, the weeping teacher said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Mohammed is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.



The case was caught up in the ideology that President al-Bashir's Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan, a mix of anti-colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.

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