Sudanese protesters demand death for teddy teacher
KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Hundreds of Sudanese Muslims, waving green Islamic flags, took to the streets of Khartoum on Friday demanding death for the British teacher convicted of insulting Islam after her class named a teddy bear Mohammad.
"No one lives who insults the Prophet," the protesters chanted, a day after school teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54, was sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation from Sudan.
In a bid to secure her early release, Lord Ahmed, a Muslim peer from Britain's ruling Labor party in the House of Lords upper house, left London on Friday.
He was accompanied by Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, from the opposition Conservative Party. They were invited to Khartoum by the Sudanese government.
At least 1,000 protesters shook their fists or waved banners or ceremonial swords and chanted religious and nationalist slogans after leaving Muslim Friday prayers. Banners called for "punishment" for Gibbons, and some protesters burned newspapers that contained pictures of the teacher.
Several hundred protesters made a brief stop at the closed but heavily guarded Unity High School, where Gibbons worked, but did not attempt to go inside. The school was guarded by five truckloads of police in riot gear.
The protesters marched from there to the British embassy where several hundred surrounded the ambassador's residence, chanting religious slogans. There were no reports of violence.
Gibbons was charged on Wednesday with insulting Islam, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs because the class toy had been given the same name as the Muslim Prophet Mohammad.
Under Sudan's penal code, she could have faced 40 lashes, a fine or up to a year in jail. But Gibbons was convicted only of insulting religion.
Teachers at her school say that calling the teddy bear Mohammad was not Gibbons's idea and that no parents objected when she sent circulars about a reading project that included the bear, introduced in September, as a fictional participant.
A spokesman for the British embassy in Khartoum said that the British consul and deputy ambassador had seen Gibbons on Friday and that she was well, but gave no clue as to where she was being held.
"We are not commenting on her location," spokesman Omar Daair said.
Lawyers had initially said they expected Gibbons to have been taken to Omdurman women's prison, a jail which is overcrowded and usually filled with women serving sentences for making and selling alcohol, illegal in mainly Muslim Sudan. But lawyers could not say on Friday where she was being held.
One defence lawyer said on Thursday that Gibbons had already served five days of her sentence since her arrest on Sunday and that she may not have to serve all the remaining days. The judge said she could leave once she had a compulsory exit visa, defence lawyers said.
Sudan has had poor relations with Britain, the United States and most European countries for several years, mainly due to disagreements over how to handle the conflict in Darfur in western Sudan.
Britain's foreign minister has said he was "extremely disappointed" with the verdict and called in the Sudanese ambassador for an immediate explanation.
The United Nations Security Council, of which Britain is a permanent member, wants to deploy a joint U.N.-African force to Darfur to help end the conflict and help displaced people return home. Khartoum reluctantly agreed but is disputing many details.
International experts estimate that some 200,000 people have died and 2.5 million been driven from their homes in ethnic and political conflict in Darfur since a revolt by mostly non-Arab rebels in 2003.
(Reporting by Andrew Heavens; Writing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Dominic Evans)
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