Thursday, November 29, 2007

Developments In Sudan's Arrest of British School Teacher On Charges of Insulting Islam [UPDATED]

Yesterday's Khaleej Times reports that British school teacher Gillian Gibbons will be formally charged by a Sudanese court today with insulting the religious beliefs of Muslims by having her class name a teddy bear "Mohammed". (See prior posting.) ThisIsLondon today says that Gibbons technically faces three separate charges-- insulting Islam, inciting religious hatred and contempt for religious beliefs - each of which carries a maximum penalty of 40 lashes and a year in jail. However, she will likely be tried only on one of the charges. The prosecutor said she will get a swift and fair trial. As Gibbons was brought to court this morning, security was tight out of fear that militants might attempt to kidnap her.

The case has turned into a full-blown diplomatic incident as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned Sudan's ambassador for urgent talks. (Australia's Herald Sun, 11/29). The AP reports that Sudan's top clerical leaders, known as the Assembly of the Ulemas, issued a statement on Wednesday calling the incident part of a broader Western plot against Muslims, and comparing it to insults against the Prophet Muhammad by author Salman Rushdie. Future develoopments may turn on how imams deal with the case in their messages at Friday prayers this week. The Muslim Council of Britain said it was "appalled" at the actions of Sudan.

Today's Times of London says that British diplomats are trying to prevent the incident from interfering with peace making efforts in Darfur. A possible compromise would be for Gibbons-- who has already spent four days in jail-- to be tried, but then expelled from the country, or pardoned, instead of being punished. The Times describes Unity High School-- the school at which Gibbons taught-- as "an exclusive British-run school favoured by the Sudanese elite."

UPDATE: AP reports that on Thursday in Sudan, teacher Gillian Gibbons was convicted of insulting Islam, and sentenced to 15 days in prison, to be followed by deportation. The quick verdict after a 7-hour trial appeared to be designed to end the case before Friday prayers and the possible incitement of worshipers over the matter. (Times of London.) A senior government official told the AP that clerics had been ordered not to deliver inflammatory sermons about the case on Friday.

UPDATE: BBC News on Thursday carries an article discussing differing views among Muslims about assigning the name Muhammad to pets and toys.

UPDATE: CNN reported on Tuesday that Gillian Gibbons arrived back in London and said her experience should not deter peoople from visiting Sudan which she said was an "extremely beautiful place."