KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) – A British teacher jailed for letting her students name a teddy bear Muhammad as part of writing project headed home yesterday after being pardoned – ending a case that set off an international outcry and angered many moderate Muslims.
The incident was the latest in a tense relationship between the West and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, an Islamic hard-liner who has been accused by the United Nations of dragging his feet on the deployment of peacekeepers to the country’s war-torn Darfur region.
Gillian Gibbons, jailed for more than a week, was freed after two Muslim members of Britain’s House of Lords met with al-Bashir and the teacher sent the president a statement saying she didn’t mean to offend anyone with her class project.
“I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone,” Gibbons said in the statement, which was released by al-Bashir’s office and read to journalists by British Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.
“I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I am very sorry that I will be unable to return to Sudan,” Gibbons wrote.
Al-Bashir insisted Gibbons had a fair trial, in which she was convicted of insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, but the president agreed to pardon her during the meeting with the British delegation, said Ghazi Saladdin, a senior presidential adviser.
The 54-year-old Gibbons flew out of the country Monday evening, landing several hours later in Dubai. She was expected in London this morning.
Gibbons slept for much of the flight, telling reporters: “I just want to relax, I don’t want to say any more. I’m too tired,” according to The Times of London, whose reporter was on the plane.
Her family in Liverpool, England, waited with beer, wine and flowers, ready to welcome her home.
“It’s been a strange old week, very stressful and particularly bad for the family, but now she’s coming home, fingers crossed,” her son, John Gibbons, told reporters. “If this week has taught me anything, it is that anything can happen.”
Riot police deployed around Khartoum’s airport terminal as the Lords delegation arrived, apparently accompanying Gibbons on the flight, with the British ambassador on hand to see them off. She had been held at a secret location since protesters marched Friday demanding her death.