Sudanese protesters demand death for British teacher

Friday, November 30, 2007

Roughly 600 enraged Sudanese protesters, some armed with knives and sticks, converged on Khartoum's Martyrs' Square after Friday Prayers to demand the death of Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed yesterday for allowing her class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear Mohammad, one of the most common names in the Arab world.

A number of prominent Sudanese clerics ignored government instructions not to inflame the situation, although they stopped short of directly calling for her death. By the end of Friday Prayers passions were running high.

Sheikh Hussein Mubarak told thousands of the faithful gathered for the Muslim day of prayer that the court's "verdict was lenient out of fear of criticism from human rights organisations, America and the West", and he denounced "those who try to defend democracy and human rights and insult the Prophet." He claimed Ms Gibbons was part of a campaign to transform Sudan from an Islamic state into a Christian state.

Sheikh Abdul-Jalil Nazeer al-Karouri, told worshippers at the city's Martyr's Mosque that Gillian Gibbons had deliberately named her class's teddy bear Mohammed with the intention of insulting Islam. "Imprisoning this lady does not satisfy the thirst of Muslims in Sudan. But we welcome imprisonment and expulsion."

Leaflets distributed earlier in the week by Sudanese Muslim groups had condemned Gibbons as an "infidel" and accused her of "the pollution of children's mentality". They promised a "popular release of anger" at demonstrations on Friday.

An angry crowd of around 600 protesters - some reports say thousands - gathered at Martyrs' Square, outside the presidential palace. The mob chanted slogans like, "those who insult the Prophet of Islam should be punished with bullets", "No tolerance: Execution," "Kill her, kill her by firing squad," and "Shame, shame on the UK." Newspaper pictures of Ms Gibbons were set on fire, and foreign journalists were threatened, and forced to leave.

Hundreds of riot police were deployed but they did not break up the demonstration.

Britain's Foreign Office is understood to be arranging further talks with the Sudanese government today.

Boris Johnson, an English MP writing in The Times in London, has welcomed Muslim opposition in Britain to the events in Sudan and called for muslims to publicly demonstrate their outrage:

"the voices we need to hear now belong to Britain's vast, sensible Muslim majority... Their arguments will be heard with respect in Khartoum, since they cannot be said to be founded on any kind of cultural imperialism, or to be actuated by Islamophobia.
"More importantly, a strong protest by British Muslims against the imprisonment of Gillian Gibbons would help to contradict the growing ranks of pessimists and neo-cons - the people who say that the real problem is Islam, the religion itself."

Ms Gibbons' son John, from Liverpool, has asked that British people angered by his mother's jail sentence should not turn against Muslims.

"We have had a lot of support from Muslims in Britain, in Sudan and across the world... I do not want this to lead to any anti-Muslims feeling in this country."


Name A Teddy For Gillian Gibbons Campaign