KHARTOUM, Sudan (CNN) — A court in Sudan on Thursday found a British teacher guilty of inciting religious hatred by allowing her class to name a teddy bear “Mohammed” and sentenced her to 15 days in prison and deportation, her defense laywer told CNN.
The court in Khartoum ordered Gillian Gibbons, 54, to be incarcerated in the city’s Omdurman women’s prison, her lawyer said, adding that the verdict was “disappointing” and they would be mounting an appeal.
Journalist Andrew Heavens said the appeal would probably take at least 15 days to mount.
The UK Foreign Office said they are aware of Gibbons’ guilty verdict and sentencing. They said her sentence will be 15 days from the date of her arrest. She was arrested on Sunday, so she has 11 days left.
Gibbons was detained after it emerged she had allowed her class of 7-year-olds to choose the name of the toy as part of a school project, Robert Boulos, the head of Unity High School, told CNN.Video Watch latest developments in the case. »
She was ushered into the courthouse earlier through a crowd of reporters by Sudanese police earlier in the day. She looked somber and dazed and was dressed in a black blazer and light blue skirt.
UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband called Gibbons’ actions an “innocent misunderstanding,” following a meeting with the Sudanese Ambassador to Britain, Omer Siddig, who was summoned to the Foreign Office in London.
“I explained to him that we were very concerned by the case. We believe that this was an innocent misunderstanding,” he said in a statement released after the meeting.
“The Sudanese ambassador undertook to ensure our concerns were relayed to Khartoum at the highest level. He also said he would reflect back to Khartoum the real respect for the Islamic religion in this country,” the statement added.
Boulos told CNN Wednesday that the complaint about Gibbons’ actions came from a staff member at the school, not from a parent as originally thought.
Speaking outside the court, Boulos said a letter from Sudan’s Ministry of Education claimed that parents had raised concerns over the naming of the bear. He said he did not know who was responsible, but was “horrified” when he found out it was a member of his own staff.
Defense counsel later confirmed that the complaint came from Sarah Khawad, a secretary at the school. The counsel, who did not give his name, said the hearing had been delayed as it waited for Khawad to arrive at court to give her evidence.
British consular staff and Gibbons’ defense team were at first refused access to the court by Sudanese police.
The defense lawyer was later allowed in to see his client but came out after 30 minutes and told reporters the hearing had been adjourned while judges waited for the prosecution team to arrive.
On the first floor of the courthouse, around 25 police linked arms and forced journalists and British officials away from the court entrance. Police detained some journalists, and confiscated a camera belonging to a freelance CNN cameraman.
Four vans filled with riot police were waiting outside the courthouse, but there were no signs of street disturbances or protests. Staff from Gibbons’ school, including Boulos, were present. They refused to comment on their colleague’s predicament.
The charges against Gibbons were announced Wednesday in Arabic on by state-run news agency.
Although there is no ban in the Quran on images of Allah or the Prophet Mohammed, likenesses are considered highly offensive by Muslims.
Gibbons has been working at the school — popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates — since August, after leaving her position as deputy head teacher at a primary school in Liverpool this summer, said Boulos.
He said Gibbons asked the children to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats.
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