Only Sudan’s president has the power to pardon a British teacher sentenced to 15 days imprisonment for insulting Islam, said the justice minister today as British Muslim peers pushed to meet the Sudanese leader.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Nazir Ahmed moved into a second day of meetings with Sudanese officials early with an eventual goal of obtaining a pardon for Gillian Gibbons from President Omar al-Bashir.
“Any early pardon would be the exclusive prerogative of the president, I can’t talk any more about it,” said Justice Minister Ali al-Mardhi, adding that he had only just returned from a meeting in Cairo the night before and had yet to meet with the British delegation.
The British embassy, which says the British peers are on a private visit, said that Miss Gibbons was in good health.
“The ambassador called on Miss Gibbons this morning and she was fine,” said Omar Daair, embassy spokesman in Khartoum. He did not give any further details.
Concern for Miss Gibbons’ safety was sparked on Friday after thousands of Sudanese, many armed with clubs and swords and beating drums, burned pictures of her and demanded her execution during a rally in the capital Khartoum.
“The Sudanese government (does) want to resolve this matter. ... (We) hope we can come to an amicable resolution soon,” Baroness Warsi said after she and Lord Ahmed met Sudanese officials yesterday.
Miss Gibbons, 54, was sentenced on Thursday to 15 days in jail and deportation for insulting Islam by allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad – the name of Islam’s prophet. The naming was part of a class project for her seven-year-old students at a private school in Sudan.
Miss Gibbons was moved from the Omdurman women’s prison to a secret location on Friday after the angry demonstrations against her.
There was no overt sign that the government organised the protest, but such a rally could not have taken place without at least official assent.
Miss Gibbons 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 on Sunday counts toward the sentence.
During her trial, the weeping teacher said she had intended no harm. Her students, overwhelmingly Muslim, chose the name for the bear, and Muhammad is one of the most common names for men in the Arab world. Muslim scholars generally agree that intent is a key factor in determining if someone has violated Islamic rules against insulting the prophet.
But the case was caught up in the ideology that al-Bashir’s Islamic regime has long instilled in Sudan, a mix of anti-colonialism, religious fundamentalism and a sense that the West is besieging Islam.
The uproar comes as the UN is accusing Sudan of dragging its feet on the deployment of peacekeepers in the western Sudanese Darfur region.