Sudan Protesters: Execute U.K. Teacher

Undated photo of British primary school teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54 of Aigburth, Liverpool who is in a Khartoum prison cell after being arrested on suspicion of blasphemy.
AP Photo/PA
The teacher jailed in Sudan for inciting racial hatred appealed for tolerance Friday in a conversation with her son - her first remarks since being jailed for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

"One of the things my mum said today was that 'I don't want any resentment towards Muslim people'," her son John Gibbons told The Associated Press. "She's holding up quite well."

Earlier, thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and knives, rallied Friday in a central square and demanded the execution of a British teacher convicted of insulting Islam for allowing her students to name a teddy bear "Muhammad."

The protesters streamed out of mosques after Friday sermons, as pickup trucks with loudspeakers blared messages against Gillian Gibbons, the teacher who was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation.

They massed in central Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace, where hundreds of riot police were deployed, although they did not attempt to stop the rally.

"Shame, shame on the U.K.," protesters chanted.

They called for Gibbons' execution, saying, "No tolerance: Execution," and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad."

The women's prison where Gibbons is being held is far from the site, as is the Unity High School where she taught, which is under heavy security protection.

In response to the protests, Gillian Gibbons was moved from the women's prison near Khartoum to a secret location said her chief lawyer Kamal al-Gizouli shortly after visiting her to discuss the verdict.

"They moved this lady from the prison department to put her in other hands and in other places to cover her and wait until she completes her imprisonment period," he said, adding that she was in good health. "They want by hook or by crook to complete these nine days without any difficulties which would have an impact on their foreign relationship."

Some of the protesters, who an Associated Press reporter at the scene said numbered as many as 10,000, carried clubs, knives and axes but not automatic weapons, which some have carried at past government-condoned demonstrations, suggesting Friday's rally was not organized by the government.

The teacher wept in court Thursday as she heard her prison sentence, insisting she never meant to offend. She avoided a much heavier possible punishment of 40 lashes.

The sentence and quick seven-hour trial Thursday were aimed at swiftly resolving the case, which had put Sudan's government in an embarrassing position - facing the anger of Britain on one side and potential trouble from powerful Islamic hard-liners on the other.

The defense said the case was sparked by a school secretary with a grudge. But it escalated as Muslim clerics sought to drum up public outrage against what it called a Western plot to insult Islam's Prophet Muhammad and demanding Gibbons be punished.

The government, which has often touted its Islamic credentials, encouraged past protests over cartoons seen as insulting the prophet published in European papers. But its moves in this case suggested it feared the case could hurt its reputation in the West.

The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, "was in tears" when she testified in court Thursday, a member of her defense team, Abdel-Khaliq Abdallah, told The Associated Press.

"She said that she never wanted to insult Islam" by allowing the children to name the stuffed toy Muhammad, a common name among Muslim men, the lawyer said, speaking outside the courtroom. Media were barred from the chamber.

Gibbons, 54, was found guilty of "insulting the faith of Muslims" and sentenced to 15 days in jail, followed by deportation, said Ali Mohammed Ajab, a human rights lawyer on the defense team. The charge is a lesser offense in the article of the criminal code under which she was tried, which includes several possible charges.

Prosecutors had pressed for conviction on a heavier charge under the same article - inciting religious hatred, which carries a punishment of up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine.

A judge leaving the courtroom confirmed the verdict to reporters, but refused to give his name.

Britain said it was "extremely disappointed with the sentence." London had been conducting delicate diplomatic efforts to ensure she received no punishment for what it said was a "misunderstanding."

In London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband summoned the Sudanese ambassador after the verdict and sentence. During the 45-minute meeting, Miliband "expressed in the strongest terms our concern at the continued detention of Gillian Gibbons," the Foreign Office said in a statement. Miliband also spoke on the phone with Sudan's acting foreign minister.

Gibbons' supporters in Khartoum were divided over the verdict. Ajab, a human rights lawyer on the defense team, called the ruling "very unfair," blaming "hard-liners trying to make some noise."

But the director of Gibbons' Unity High School, Robert Boulos, said the lawyers hired by the school would not appeal, noting she could have received a heavier sentence. He said Gibbons, jailed since Sunday, has already served five days in prison and would only have to serve 10 more.

The case began with a classroom project on animals 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 7-year-old students bring in a teddy bear, then asked the class to name it and they chose the name Muhammad.

Each student then took the teddy bear home to write a diary entry about it, and the entries were compiled into a book with the bear's picture on the cover, titled "My Name is Muhammad," Boulos said.

But an office assistant at the school, Sara Khawad, complained to the Ministry of Education that Gibbons had insulted the prophet. Khawad testified at Thursday's trial, chief defense lawyer Kamal Djizouri said.

Khawad "was doing this out of revenge against the administration," Djizouri said. He did not elaborate. But the director of the school's Parent-Teacher Association, Isam Abu Hasabu, claimed Khawad had argued with the principal before the incident.

Comparing the Prophet Muhammad - Islam's most revered figure - to an animal or a toy could be insulting to Muslims. But Boulos said that, contrary to earlier reports, no parents had complained.

"It's just a teddy bear," Boulos said.

The government issued orders to clerics not to deliver inflammatory sermons Friday about the case or against foreigners, a senior government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had also ordered officials not to discuss the case.

The north of Sudan bases its legal code on Islamic law, and President Omar al-Bashir often seeks to burnish his religious credentials, playing up to his hard-line supporters.

But in Gibbons' case, the government appeared reluctant to let hard-liners steer it into tensions with Britain and the West. Sudan is already facing international scorn and charges of war crimes in Darfur, where the government is waging a brutal fight against non-Muslim rebels, reports CBS News correspondent Richard Roth.

Public pressure by Western governments over the Darfur conflict has eased recently, with a U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force preparing to deploy.