Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher jailed for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad, has been freed today after receiving a presidential pardon.
She was handed over to the British embassy after more than week in custody and is expected to fly back to England within the next few hours.
Her freedom came after a meeting between two British Muslim peers, Lord Nazir Ahmed and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, and Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, in his palace in the capital, Khartoum.
Gordon Brown said today that “common sense” had prevailed.
In a statement, Gibbons said she was “fine” and “very grateful to all the people working on my behalf”.
The prime minister said in a statement: “I was delighted and relieved to hear the news that Gillian Gibbons is to be freed. She will be released into the care of our embassy in Khartoum after what must have been a difficult ordeal.”
He added: “Through the course of Ms Gibbons’ detention I was glad to see Muslim groups across the UK express strong support for her case.
“I applaud the particular efforts of Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi in securing her freedom. I am also grateful to our officials for all their work behind the scenes.”
In a statement, Gibbons said: “I have been in Sudan for over four months but I have enjoyed myself immensely. I have encountered nothing but kindness from the Sudanese people. I have great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone and I’m sorry if I have cause any distress.”
Warsi read out the statement after meeting the Sudanese president. In it Gibbons paid tribute to her pupils and said she would miss them terribly. “I am sad to think they have been distressed by this incident,” she said.
Her son, John Gibbons, 25, said: “Obviously we’re very pleased. We’ve just got to contain our excitement until she’s on the plane.
“I’d like to thank the government for all they have done, the hard work behind the scenes, especially the two peers who went out there.”
Asked if he had spoken to his mother since her release, he said no, but added: “I’m sure she’ll be very pleased although quite embarrassed to be on the news permanently.
“It’s been a strange old week, very stressful and particularly bad for the family but now she’s coming home, fingers crossed.
“If this week has taught me anything it is that anything can happen.”
When asked what the key factor was in securing Gibbons’ release, Ahmed said: “As British Muslim parliamentarians we had better understanding.”
A Sudanese government spokesman said he hoped the decision to release Gibbons would improve relations between Britain and Sudan.
But he said: “There was a political risk in this decision. Although the pardon is a presidential prerogative, because of the rising feeling and tensions that have been generated many Sudanese will see it as unfair to them and that it might encourage others to do the same.
“The president considered the intentions behind the actions when he made this decision [to pardon].”
Gibbons’ pardon prompted a small protest outside the British embassy, which ended peacefully.
Reacting to the pardon, Khalid al-Mubarak, of the Sudanese embassy in London, said: “Congratulations. I am overjoyed. She is a teacher who went to teach our children English and she has helped a great deal and I am very grateful. What has happened was a cultural misunderstanding, a minor one, and I hope she, her family and the British people won’t be affected by what happened.”
Gibbons, 54, was arrested last Sunday over a classroom exercise in September in which she allowed seven-year-old pupils to name a teddy bear. A school assistant complained after the pupils chose the name Muhammad.
Gibbons was jailed for 15 days on Thursday. She was held at an undisclosed location in Khartoum for her own safety after angry protesters gathered on Friday, many of whom called for her to be executed.
Massing in Martyrs Square some chanted: “Shame, shame on the UK”, “No tolerance: execution”; and “Kill her, kill her by firing squad.”
Mubarak played down Friday’s protests, saying: “The demonstrations were an argument from the fringe. I hope for the best relationship with Britain in the months ahead.”
In Liverpool, Gibbons’ former teaching colleagues said they were thrilled by her release.
Rick Widdowson, headteacher of Garston primary school, where Gibbons worked for 12 years, said: “Everyone is very relieved and very pleased.
“We feel it should never have come to this but it’s a good ending.
“One or two of the staff see Gill socially and I am sure they will be meeting up to celebrate with her.”