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British lawmakers seek to free teacher

December 02, 2007|From the Associated Press

KHARTOUM, SUDAN — Two British Parliament members met officials in Sudan on Saturday to try to secure the release of a British teacher imprisoned for naming a teddy bear Muhammad, and later said the Khartoum government wants to resolve the case.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Nazir Ahmed, both Muslim members of Parliament's upper house, also visited the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, in prison for more than an hour. "Gillian was surprisingly in good spirits considering the last seven days," said Warsi, a Conservative.

The pair arrived Saturday on what the British Foreign Office called a private visit to seek early release of the teacher.

Concern for Gibbons' safety was sparked Friday when thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of her and demanded her execution during a rally in Khartoum.

Gibbons was moved from the Omdurman women's prison to a secret location Friday after the demonstrations.

"The Sudanese government [does] want to resolve this matter. . . . [We] hope we can come to an amicable resolution soon," Warsi said after she and Ahmed met Sudanese officials.

Gibbons' lawyer, Kamal Gizouli, said he "would not be surprised" if President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir delivered news of a pardon when he met with Warsi and Ahmed. When they would meet was not immediately clear. He said that only the president has the power to commute Gibbons' sentence.

Gibbons, 54, was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation for insulting Islam by naming a teddy bear after Islam's prophet. The naming was part of a class project for her 7-year-old students at a private school.

The teacher's conviction under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law shocked Britons, and the British government has said it is working with Khartoum to win her release.

Gibbons escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine.

During her trial, the weeping teacher said she had intended no harm. She said her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear.

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