LONDON – British Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned the Sudanese ambassador Thursday to explain the 15-day sentence handed down in the case of a British teacher who allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad, the Foreign Office said.
Gillian Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday after complaints to the Sudanese Education Ministry that she had insulted the Prophet Muhammad, the most revered figure in Islam, by applying his name to a toy animal.
Miliband had said diplomats would "do everything to avoid" any of the possible sentences that could be imposed on Gibbons, but her defense lawyer said Thursday the teacher had been sentenced to 15 days in prison and would be deported from the country.
"We are extremely disappointed with the sentence and Foreign Secretary David Miliband has summoned the Sudanese ambassador to explain what has happened," a Foreign office spokeswoman said, while speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government policy.
Miliband had already met with Sudanese Ambassador Omer Mohammed Ahmed Siddig for 35 minutes earlier Thursday. Miliband stressed Britain's respect for Islam throughout the talks, seeking to head off any call from religious hard-liners for Gibbons' case to be used as an example of perceived anti-Muslim sentiment in the West.
After the meeting, he released a conciliatory statement, noting the "close relations" Britain and Sudan had enjoyed, "based on our mutual respect for each other's religious and cultural values."
The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella group of British Muslim organizations, called the sentence "completely unjustified."
"(Gibbons) should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone convicted of any crime," Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala said. "There was no crime, it was a wholly innocent and naive. ... The worst you could say about her actions is that she was inadvertently naive. She should not be put in prison for that."