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Reports: Sudan arrests UK teacher for teddy bear blasphemy

  • Story Highlights
  • Gillian Gibbons, 54, arrested in Sudan for insulting religion, officials say
  • Reports say trouble began after her class named teddy bear "Mohammed"
  • Blasphemy punishable in Sudan by 40 lashes, prison or fine, reports say
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(CNN) -- Sudan has arrested a British teacher for insulting faith and religion, the British Foreign Office said Monday.

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An undated amateur photo of Gillian Gibbons.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, is being held by police in Sudan's capital, Khartoum, and has not been charged, British officials said.

Numerous media reports say Gibbons was arrested after allowing her class of 7-year-olds to name a teddy bear "Mohammed."

That could be seen as an insult to the Prophet Mohammed, the reports said.

Blasphemy is punishable with 40 lashes under Islamic Sharia law, Britain's Press Association news agency reported.

Gibbons asked the children to pick a name for the bear as part of a lesson on animal habits at Unity High School, PA said.

A British Embassy spokesman in Khartoum was quoted as saying the naming of the bear did not cause immediate trouble.

"The children chose the name because it is very common here," the spokesman told PA.

"This happened in September and the parents did not have a problem with it."

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Unity director Robert Boulos told Reuters news agency that Gibbons was arrested Sunday at her home on school grounds after a number of parents made a complaint to Sudan's Ministry of Education.

He said she had since been charged with "blasphemy," an offense he said was punishable with up to three months in prison and a fine, Reuters.com reported.

Gibbons left the northwestern English city of Liverpool for Sudan in July, PA said.

A family spokeswoman told the agency: "I have spoken with her children and they do not want to say anything and aggravate the situation over there."

Boulos told Reuters he had decided to shut the school until January for fear of reprisals. The school on its Web site calls itself a "British international school" teaching children aged 4 to 18.

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"This is a very sensitive issue," Boulos was quoted as saying on Reuters.com.

"We are very worried about her safety," he added. "This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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