Lawyer expects pardon for Sudan teacher

The chief defence lawyer of the British teacher convicted by a Sudanese court for insulting Islam expected her to be pardoned with the visit of a delegation of British Muslims today.

The chief defence lawyer of the British teacher convicted by a Sudanese court for insulting Islam expected her to be pardoned with the visit of a delegation of British Muslims today.

Labour peer Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi, a Conservative, arrived in Sudan today, on what the British Foreign Office called a private visit, to meet Sudanese officials and seek the release of Gillian Gibbons.

"I would not be surprised if the president of the republic will tell delegation we have dropped this charge," defence lawyer Kamal al-Gizouli said, explaining that only the president has the power to lift Gibbons' 15 day sentence.

Gibbons, whose prison sentence runs until December 9, was moved from the Omdurman women's prison on Friday after thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of her and demanded her execution.

Sudan's Islamic government, which has long whipped up anti-Western, Muslim hard-line sentiment at home, was balancing between fuelling outrage over the case of Gillian Gibbons and containing it.

The government does not want to seriously damage ties with Britain, but the show of anger on Friday underlines its stance that Sudanese oppose Western interference, lawyers and political foes said. The uproar comes as the UN is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the war-torn Darfur region.

Gibbons, 54, who was sentenced to 15 days in jail, spoke Friday with her son John and daughter Jessica in Britain by telephone.

"One of the things my mum said today was that I don't want any resentment towards Muslims," John said. "She's holding up quite well."

Despite the fervour of the protest, the rest of Khartoum was quiet. The rally was far smaller than February 2006 protests held with government backing after European newspapers ran caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, suggesting popular anger over Gibbons did not run as deep.

In their mosque sermons Friday, several Muslim clerics harshly denounced Gibbons, saying she had intentionally insulted the prophet, but they did not call for protests and said the punishment ordered by the court was sufficient.

Still, after prayers, several thousand people converged on Khartoum's Martyrs Square, near the presidential palace, and began calling for Gibbons' execution. Many seemed to be from Sufi groups, religious sects that emphasise reverence for the prophet.

Several hundred protesters marched to Unity High School, where Gibbons worked, and chanted outside briefly before heading toward the nearby British Embassy. They were stopped by security forces two blocks from the embassy. The protest dispersed after an hour.

There was no overt sign that the government organised the protest, but such a public rally could not have taken place without at least official assent.

Gibbons was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation for insulting Islam with the naming of the teddy bear, which was part of a class project for her seven-year-old students at the private school.

She escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine. Her time in jail since her arrest Sunday counts toward the sentence.

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