British teacher jailed over teddy bear arrives home

LONDON Tue Dec 4, 2007 8:29am EST

1 of 10. British teacher Gillian Gibbons faces the media at a news conference after arriving at Heathrow Airport in west London, December 4, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Steve Parsons/Pool

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LONDON (Reuters) - A British teacher jailed in Sudan for letting her pupils name a teddy bear Mohammad arrived in London on Tuesday after being pardoned and said she had been well treated in prison and was sorry to leave the country.

A smiling Gillian Gibbons was met by her son John and daughter Jessica at Heathrow airport after her flight touched down at around 0705 GMT.

"It has been an ordeal, but I would like you to know that I was well treated in prison and everybody was very kind to me," Gibbons told reporters. "I was very sorry to leave Sudan. I had a fabulous time there."

Gibbons, sentenced last week to 15 days in jail for insulting Islam, flew home from Khartoum with two prominent British Muslim legislators who had appealed to the Sudanese president for her early release.

Gibbons, 54, let her pupils at Khartoum's private Unity High School pick their favorite name for a teddy bear as part of a project in September.

Twenty out of 23 of them chose Mohammad -- a popular boy's name in Sudan, as well as the name of Islam's Prophet -- but a member of staff complained to the authorities.

Gibbons apologized for any distress she might have caused the people of Sudan. She has said she encountered "nothing but kindness and generosity from the Sudanese people".

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country has had strained relations with Sudan for several years, mainly because of the conflict in Darfur, said he was "delighted and relieved" to hear Gibbons had been pardoned and freed.

Two British peers, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Ahmed, went to Sudan at the weekend in a private initiative to try to secure Gibbons' early release.

Her pardon and release was announced while they were meeting President Omar Hassan al-Bashir on Monday and they left Khartoum later in the day.

Many Sudanese said they thought Gibbons' action was an innocent mistake which could be forgiven after an apology.

Sudan's influential Council of Muslim Scholars urged the government on Sunday not to pardon Gibbons, saying it would damage Khartoum's reputation among Muslims around the world.

Gibbons thanked all those who had helped secure her release and said she was glad to be back in Britain and eager to spend some quiet time with her family.

"I'm a little shocked at all the media attention I have been getting and I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends and having a good rest," she told reporters at the airport. "I am hoping that you will give me space in order to do that."

(Editing by Tim Pearce)

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