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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 16:51 GMT
UK teacher goes to court in Sudan
Police outside the court in Khartoum
Police prevented journalists from entering the court for the hearing
A British teacher charged in Sudan with insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs has been taken to court.

Journalists were prevented from entering as Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, went inside.

She was arrested after complaints that her primary school pupils had called their class teddy bear Muhammad.

The prime minister is taking a "close interest" in the case and has spoken to her family, his spokesman said.

And Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he hoped "common sense" would prevail in the case.

The Sudanese legal system has to take its course but common sense has to prevail
David Miliband
UK Foreign Secretary

If convicted, Mrs Gibbons could face a prison sentence, a fine or 40 lashes.

She was arrested on Sunday in Khartoum after allowing her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear in September.

Muhammad is a popular name in mainly Muslim Sudan, and a boy in Mrs Gibbons class has said he suggested to the class the teddy bear be named after himself.

'Chaotic' scenes

When she arrived at the building on Thursday Mrs Gibbons was taken with about 20 officers into one court before being ushered into another room - in scenes described as "chaotic" by BBC reporter Amber Henshaw.

Embassy officials and her legal team were initially not granted access to her, but were later allowed in.

A teddy bear on sale in Sudan

Meanwhile, in London Mr Miliband met the Sudan ambassador to discuss the case, reminding him of Britain's "long-standing tradition of religious tolerance".

The UK government, which is providing consular support to Mrs Gibbons, said it was "very concerned" about the case but hoped it would be resolved swiftly.

"The Sudanese legal system has to take its course but common sense has to prevail," Mr Miliband said.

"It's not about disrespect for Sudan, it's about being absolutely clear that this is an innocent misunderstanding."

After the meeting with Ambassador Omer Siddig, Mr Miliband said he emphasised Britain's respect of Islam and the "close relations" between the two countries.

"The Sudanese Ambassador undertook to ensure our concerns were relayed to Khartoum at the highest level.

"He also said he would reflect back to Khartoum the real respect for the Islamic religion in this country."

BBC world affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds said the British government was treating the case as a consular issue and not a diplomatic incident, with Mr Miliband's approach being to avoid confrontation with Sudan.

Khalid al Mubarak, of the Sudanese embassy in London, said Mrs Gibbons had adequate support.

Gillian Gibbons
If convicted Gillian Gibbons could face a prison sentence

"Like all legal systems the judge can decide to dismiss the whole thing or that the case goes on anyway.

"Mrs Gibbons has consular support, the British embassy has one of the best solicitors in the country whom I know personally.

"There is no worry on that front at all. She will be very well represented and well treated."

Even though the British government has expressed concern about the arrest, Mr al Mubarak dismissed any suggestion that diplomatic relations had become strained, instead saying there had been "sensationalist" reporting.

"The general situation and relationship are very good now, with the exception of this minute and unexpected incident of Mrs Gibbons."

Sudan's top clerics have called for the full measure of the law to be used against Mrs Gibbons and labelled her actions part of a Western plot against Islam.

Find out about educational parameters, find out about etiquette and gestures
Jenny Johnson
Head of Cactus TEFL

But in Britain, the Islamic Human Rights Commission was among Muslim groups to call for her immediate release.

Chairman Massoud Shadjareh said: "Both the Sudanese government and the media must refrain from using Islam and Islamic principles to legitimise this fiasco, which may result in the unjust conviction of an innocent person, and which will only lead to the promotion of Islamophobia and further demonisation of Islam."

And a spokesman for the Muslim youth organisation, the Ramadhan Foundation, said "this matter is not worthy of arrest or detention and her continued detention will not help repair the misconceptions about Islam."

Footage of Gillian Gibbons in Sudan

Pupil defends Sudan row teacher
28 Nov 07 |  Africa
What can't be named Muhammad?
28 Nov 07 |  Magazine
Q&A: Depicting the Prophet Muhammad
02 Feb 06 |  Middle East

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