Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case

Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case

The Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case concerns the arrest, trial, conviction, imprisonment and subsequent release of British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons working at Unity High School in Sudan in 2007.



Gillian Gibbons was born in 1953 and gained a BEd from the CF Mott College of Education in Prescot in 1975 (the college closed in 1992). Teaching in a school in Sudan, she was arrested for allegedly insulting Islam by allowing her class to name a teddy bear "Muhammad".[1][2] A boy in the class, also named Muhammad, later claimed that the bear was named after him rather than the prophet. The boy said he was deeply hurt that his teacher, whom both he and the rest of his class grew to love as a friend, was treated in such a way.[2]

Initially it was thought that the complaint had originated from a parent of one of the children at the school. However, it was later revealed that an office assistant employed at the school, Sara Khawad, had filed the complaint and was the key witness for the prosecution.[3]

The prevalent Sunni Muslim opinion is to condemn any depictions of Muhammad, whom Muslims regard as the last messenger and prophet of God. However, many Muslim organizations in other countries publicly condemned the Sudanese over their reactions,[4] as Gibbons did not set out to cause offence.[5]

Conviction and reaction

On 28 November 2007, it was reported that Gibbons had been formally charged under Section 125 of the Sudanese Criminal Act, for "insulting religion, inciting hatred, sexual harassment, racism, prostitution and showing contempt for religious beliefs".[6][7] This carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment, a fine, or 40 lashes. On 29 November 2007, Gibbons was found guilty of "insulting religion;" one of the three counts against her, and was sentenced to 15 days' imprisonment and deportation.[8] The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organization of British Muslim groups, including MPACUK[9] said the punishment was "completely unjustified"[10] and that it was "appalled",[11] and called on the Sudanese government to intervene.[12]

On 30 November approximately 10,000 protesters took to the streets in Khartoum[13], some of them waving swords and machetes, demanding Gibbons's execution after imams denounced her during Friday prayers.[14][15] During the march, chants of "Shame, shame on the UK," "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad" were heard. Witnesses reported that government employees were involved in inciting the protests.[16] Gibbons was then moved to a secret location because of fears for her safety.[17]


In an attempt to push for the release of Gibbons, two British Muslim peers (members of the House of Lords), Lord Ahmed (Labour) and Baroness Warsi (Conservative), visited Sudan with hopes of talking to the country's President Omar al-Bashir.[17]

While the two British politicians were meeting the President on 3 December it was announced that Mrs. Gibbons was to be released from prison having been granted a Presidential pardon. She was released into the care of the British embassy in Khartoum and later returned to her home town in Britain, after issuing a written statement saying: "I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone."[18][19]


The school was closed until January 2008 for the safety of pupils and staff as reprisals were feared.[2][20]

See also


  1. ^ "'Muhammad' teddy teacher arrested". BBC. 26 November 2007. Retrieved 28 November 2007. 
  2. ^ a b c Rob Crilly in Khartoum and Lucy Bannerman (27 November 2007). "Sudan police throw teacher in jail for teddy bear named Muhammad". London: The Times. Retrieved 28 November 2007. 
  3. ^ Stratton, Allegra (30 November 2007). "Jailed teddy row teacher appeals for tolerance". The Guardian (London).,,2219876,00.html. Retrieved 1 December 2007. "The complainant was named as Sara Khawad, an office assistant at the school, who was the key prosecution witness" 
  4. ^ "Muhammad & the teddy bear: a case of intercultural incompetence". 29 November 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2007. 
  5. ^ Sudanese Views differ in Teddy Row, BBC News
  6. ^ "'Muhammad' Teacher charged over teddy row". BBC. 28 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  7. ^ "UK teacher goes to court in Sudan". BBC. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  8. ^ "UK teacher jailed over teddy row". BBC News. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  9. ^ "MPACUK on BBC". BBC News. Retrieved 26 December 2010. 
  10. ^ "U.K.: Sudan Ambassador Will Relay Concerns Over Teddy Bear Teacher". Associated Press (Fox News). 29 November 2007.,2933,313865,00.html. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  11. ^ Addison, Stephen (29 November 2007). "Teddy bear teacher ― was she naive?". Reuters. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  12. ^ de Montesquiou, Alfred (29 November 2007). "Sudan Charges Teacher for Teddy Bear Name". London: Guardian Unlimited. Archived from the original on 2 December 2007.,,-7111328,00.html. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 
  13. ^ Stratton, Allegra (30 November 2007). "Jailed teddy row teacher appeals for tolerance". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 9 December 2009. 
  14. ^ Mohamed Osman (30 November 2007). "Calls in Sudan for execution of Briton". Associated Press. 
  15. ^ Charles Onians (30 November 2007). "Khartoum demo calls for teacher to be shot". Agence France Press. Retrieved 1 December 2007. [dead link]
  16. ^ Gettleman, Jeffrey (30 November 2007). "Calls in Sudan for Execution of British Teacher". "The New York Times". Retrieved 30 November 2007. 
  17. ^ a b "UK peers in bid to free teacher". BBC News. 1 December 2007. 
  18. ^ Teddy row teacher freed from jail, BBC World Service, 3 December 2007
  19. ^ "Teddy bear" teacher leaves Sudan after pardon", MSNBC
  20. ^ "Teddy bear teacher found guilty". Daily News. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007. 

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