A British teacher facing 40 lashes in Sudan over a school teddy bear named Muhammad will discover today whether she will be charged with blasphemy.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, is being questioned for a second day by police in Khartoum on suspicion of insulting Islam‘s prophet for allowing her seven-year-old pupils to give the toy the name of the prophet.
She was moved to a cell at the CID Criminal Police Exploration Bureau for further questioning. A file on the case will be sent to the department of public prosecutions and a judge should decide today whether she should be charged.
Robert Boulos, the director of Unity High School, the British school where Ms Gibbons worked, said that she was in “very high spirits and being treated well”.
Teachers from the Khartoum school, which teaches the children of Sudanese professionals, expatriates and oil workers, have visited her in jail to deliver food and water.
A former colleague of Ms Gibbons, Gill Langworthy, said that the teacher had recently contacted her to say how much she was enjoying her work.
“I saw her in July and had farewell drinks and she was so excited about going. Since then we have been in e-mail contact at least once a week.
“Last week she sent one with pictures of her sitting on a camel and a beach, loving it, she felt so welcomed and loved teaching the children.”
Miss Langworthy, who taught with Ms Gibbons at Garston Primary School in Liverpool, said teaching abroad had always been her friend’s dream.
But she added that she feared for her safety and thought that the experience would have damaged her deeply.
She said: “I am constantly worried, and thinking about her sitting in the prison cell is horrible. When we e-mailed, she never mentioned a thing about any problems and only said positive things about the staff and children because I asked her.
“She was just having a great time and said nothing negative at all.”
Miss Langworthy, an assistant headteacher, said that her friend had endured a tough few years with the end of her marriage and several bereavements.
She added that Ms Gibbons would be “petrified” about her children, John, 25, and Jessica, 27.
“She’ll be more worried about them. But obviously, she will be scared for her own safety.”
Speaking of Ms Gibbons’ desire to see the world, she added: “It was always a dream of hers. Gillian is such a traveller and wanted to increase her knowledge of different cultures and countries and every year would go on mad explorations.
“She always said she fancied teaching abroad. She was just fascinated by Sudan and wanted to learn more about their culture and experience life there — which is just Gillian down to a T.”
She continued: “This was supposed to be a fresh start for her but it’s just ended like this. I want her happy, healthy, returning to her home, but she has a fighting spirit.”
She added that Ms Gibbons would be “devastated that she has insulted and offended anyone” with “an innocent mistake”.
Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said that information about the Sudanese legal system was hard to come by.
She said: “All the major reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty and the UN Convention on Human Rights have tended to focus on the Darfur region.
“What has been evident in those reports is that the independence of the judiciary has been compromised and that the inclusion of Sharia law into the legal code has led to some confusion.
“In these circumstances, it is hard to say what Gillian Gibbons and her family and supporters can expect.”
Ms Wolthuizen added: “One would hope that the authorities will look at this and realise that there was no blasphemous intent.
“Gillian Gibbons had no appreciation of what she was doing. The bear was never intended to be an effigy and I would expect the British Embassy officials to be pressing that message to the Sudanese authorities.”