Teacher held for teddy bear 'blasphemy'

A British primary school teacher in Sudan is facing 40 lashes and up to a year in jail for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear after the Prophet Mohamed. Gillian Gibbons has been imprisoned under strict blasphemy laws for showing "contempt and disrespect against the believers".

Colleagues of Ms Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, claim she made an "innocent mistake" by allowing her class of seven year-olds to choose the name. But she was accused of insulting Islam's holiest prophet and arrested. Her actions have sparked protests in Sudan and forced the school to close until January for fear of reprisals.

Ms Gibbons' friends and colleagues said any suggestion that she would have intentionally caused offence was ridiculous.

She is being held at a police station in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. She was said to be in good health but shaken when British embassy officials visited her yesterday. The Foreign Office said she had not been charged but detained on suspicion of the crime.

Ms Gibbons had been working at Unity High School, which is popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates, since August after leaving her position as deputy head at Dovecot Primary School in Liverpool.

She was taken from her home in the school grounds on Sunday after several parents complained to the Education Ministry.

The school's director, Robert Boulos, said it was such a sensitive issue that he had decided to close the school until January for fear of reprisals in Sudan's predominantly Muslim capital. "We are very worried about her safety," he added. "This was a completely innocent mistake. Ms Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

The teacher was following a British national curriculum course designed to teach her Year 2 pupils about animals and their habitats. In September, she asked a girl to bring her teddy bear into class so that the children could name the stuffed toy.

Eight names were suggested so, in an attempt to teach the pupils about voting, she held a ballot. Twenty of 23 children chose the name Mohamed. Each child was then allowed to take the bear home at weekends and asked to write a diary about what they did with the toy. Each entry was collected in a book which bore a picture of the bear and the words "My name is Mohamed". Police have confiscated the diary and plan to interview the girl who owned the bear.

The state-controlled Sudanese Media Centre said Ms Gibbons was arrested "under article 125 of the criminal law", on suspicion of insulting faith and religion.

Mr Boulos said the first he knew about the course was last week when he received a phone call from the Education Ministry to say that some Muslim parents had made formal complaints.

One teacher said: "I had no problem with it at all. I know Gillian and she would never have meant it as an insult. I was just impressed she got them to vote." Another source said it was believed that a teacher with a grudge against Ms Gibbons brought the case to a head.

The teacher's friends said she decided to take up the challenge of working in east Africa after separating from her husband of 20 years. She planned to spend two years in Sudan and was finding the work rewarding.

Unity, founded in 1902, is an independent school for Christian and Muslim children aged four to 18 and is governed by a board representing major Christian denominations in Sudan. It prides itself on providing a British-style education to students, whatever their gender, nationality, religion or ethnic origin, "whilst encouraging mutual respect". Ms Gibbons is one of several Western teachers who work there.

She has two children Jessica, 27 – also a teacher – and John, 25, and used to live in Aigburth, Liverpool. Her former neighbour Peter Sorensen, 64, described her as a normal working mother who was a wonderful neighbour and "would not hurt a fly".

"We are very worried about the kind of conditions she is subjected to. Being held in police cell in Khartoum must be an horrendous experience," he added.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Life and Style
life
News
‘The Graduate’, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was directed by Nichols in his purple period
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

£30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

£27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

What are Jaden and Willow on about?

Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

Cold war

How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager