Gillian Gibbons was freed into the care of British officials Monday, December 3, after receiving a pardon from Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in a case that underscored concerns among Christians and other non-Muslims about the strict interpretation of Islamic law in the Northern African nation.
She was to flying back to the United Kingdom via Dubai, and was expected to land in the UK on Tuesday morning, December 4. Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "delighted" at the teacher’s release.
Brown said "common sense has prevailed," and applauded the efforts of two British Muslim lawmakers, Sayeeda Warsi and Nazir Ahmed, who had traveled to Khartoum in hopes of securing Gibbons’ release.
Before she left Sudan, Gibbons issued a statement saying she has great respect for Islam, and apologizing “for any distress» she had caused to the people of Sudan.
In September, Gibbons allowed her students at a private Khartoum school to pick their favorite name for a teddy bear as part of a project on animals. Most of them chose Muhammad, a popular name for males in Sudan as well as the name of Islam’s founding prophet.
Sudan enforces strict Islamic sharia law that makes it a crime to insult the Islamic religion. Her release was unlikely to satisfy Muslim hardliners, who had demanded her execution.
The chairman of the US-based Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, Reverend Gary Cass, said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife earlier that the case underscored widespread persecution of Christians and other non-Muslims in Sudan.
"In Sudan, a country known for its genocide against Christians, an innocent act by Muslim school children must be result in the punishment of a Christian. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are murdered by Arab militias in the name of Islam across the Sudan, and no one has been punished," the official said.
"A class of children innocently misnames a teddy bear and now an example must be made of someone, especially a Christian someone." (With BosNewsLife Research and reporting from Sudan and the United Kingdom).