Office Assistant Denies Bringing Case Against British Teddy Bear Teacher

A Sudanese school office assistant denied Thursday she brought on the case four months ago against a British school teacher convicted of insulting Islam for letting her 6-year-old pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad — a violation under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law.

Sarah Khawad, who worked at the same Khartoum school as the British teacher, said she was not the source of the complaint against Gillian Gibbons, as media had reported at the time citing school officials and the teacher's defense lawyer.

"I did not say anything that would offend the teacher, Gillian, or incriminate her," Khawad said in a written statement distributed to reporters.

She said a parent had raised the complaint against Gibbons, but did not identify the parent.

Gibbons was sentenced to 15 days in jail and deportation after a seven-hour trial in Khartoum, a judgment that triggered outrage worldwide and embarrassed moderate Muslims in Britain and elsewhere.

The sentence was eventually cut short and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir pardoned Gibbons after she spent more than a week in custody. Gibbons returned home to Britain in December.

The Sudanese government never said who raised the complaint and the school's principal denied it was a parent of Gibbon's pupils.

Khawad testified at Gibbon's trial in November, something she did not do "voluntarily," she said in her six-page statement. Khawad denied she had complained to the Ministry of Education about Gibbons and said she and her family have suffered from "this unfair" slander. She also said she would go to court to clear her name.

The private Unity High School fired Khawad following Gibbon's trial, although there were no grounds for a legal dismissal, she added. She has not since been able to find a job because of the "strong media smearing campaign against me," Khawad said.

Meanwhile, Unity High School has advised its staff to refrain from any public comments.

The case began with a classroom project in September at the private school, which has 750 students from elementary to high school levels, most from wealthy Sudanese Muslim families. Gibbons had one of her pupils bring in a teddy bear, then asked the class to name it and they chose the name Muhammad.

Comparing the Prophet Muhammad — Islam's most revered figure — to an animal or a toy could be insulting to Muslims.