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November 2007 - Posts

Sudanese prisons 'worst in world'
Prisoners in Omdurman, Sudan
Omdurman prison is considered over-crowded and dirty
Briton Gillian Gibbons has been imprisoned for 15 days in Sudan - a country with "the worst prisons in the world", according to campaigners.

Justice Africa, a UK-based research group, said even a Sudanese person, used to the hardship of daily life, would find conditions hard.

Sudan co-ordinator Hafiz Mohammed said guards "treated inmates like slaves".

However, observers point out that some categories of prisoners can receive preferential treatment.

The Sudanese authorities have frequently refused prison inspections by international agencies.

Mrs Gibbons was jailed for 15 days by a court in Khartoum for being guilty of insulting religion after naming a teddy bear Muhammad.

She is expected to spend her sentence at Omdurman, the largest women's prison in Sudan and usually full of women convicted of making and selling alcohol.

It's very difficult even for the Sudanese people who are used to living in the harsh conditions of the country
Hafiz Mohammed
Justice Africa

Although Mr Mohammed said there was a possibility she may be given special treatment, he said she will have "a very difficult time" in an institution without beds, clean drinking water and with such poor quality food that she'll be unlikely to eat it.

"Prisons are overcrowded, there are no roofs so most of the women have to use sheets to keep the sun off them.

"It's not divided into cells but just one large area with one wall surrounding them."

Mr Mohammed said Mrs Gibbons would find hygiene "very poor, and she won't be able to drink from the taps. She'll have to rely on bottled water and food brought to her."

Relatives of Sudanese inmates are allowed to bring food and water to the prison.

"But it's very difficult even for the Sudanese people who are used to living in the harsh conditions of the country."

'Primitive'

According to the US State Department's report on human right practices, Sudan's prisons are "harsh and overcrowded".

The report from 2006 says: "Most prisons were old and poorly maintained, and many lacked basic facilities such as toilets or showers.

"Health care was primitive; prisoners usually relied on family or friends for food. Prison officials arbitrarily denied visits to prisoners."

But it pointed out: "High-ranking political prisoners reportedly often enjoyed better conditions than did other prisoners."

It also reported that security forces "routinely mistreated persons in custody.

"There were credible reports that security forces held detainees incommunicado; beat them; deprived them of food, water, and toilets; and forced them to sleep on cold floors."

War and poverty

The United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) said the overcrowding in Sudanese prisons was due to growth in population and crime while the prisons, built many years ago, have not expanded.

"The war and poverty have aggravated the situation. The prison population is growing mainly because of increase in crime and poverty caused by instability and other social and economic factors," a UNMIS report from 2004 said.

The poor conditions sometimes drove inmates to riot, although this was not very common, UNMIS said.

Sudan demo over jailed UK teacher

Protesters in Khartoum
Protests took place in Khartoum following Friday prayers

Crowds of people have marched in the Sudanese capital Khartoum to call for a tougher sentence for a UK teacher jailed for insulting religion.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, was jailed for 15 days on Thursday after allowing children in her class to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Some news agencies reported protesters had called for her to be shot.

Muslim Labour peer Lord Ahmed is to lead a parliamentary group to Sudan to try to secure Mrs Gibbons' release.

Lord Ahmed expects to meet the president and possibly the chief justice, and is travelling at the invitation of the Sudanese government.

'Kill her'

A Foreign Office spokesman has said Ms Gibbons said she was "fine" when visited by consular staff on Friday.

The marchers took to the streets after Friday prayers to denounce the sentence as too lenient.

What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings
Ali Alhadithi
Federation of Student Islamic Societies

 

The protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.

Some news agencies reported thousands of people took part in the protest, but a BBC reporter at the scene said up to a thousand marchers turned out.

According to some agencies, some of the protesters chanted: "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".

One demonstrator told reporters that it was unacceptable to take a toy and call it Muhammad.

"We can't accept it from anybody. Even if they can do that in Europe, they cannot do it here in Sudan. We ask our rulers and judges to review what they have said. Fifteen days is not enough."

Hundreds of riot police were deployed but they did not break up the demonstration.

The Foreign Office said it was seeking more details about the protest.

'Strongest terms'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been in touch with Mrs Gibbons' family for a second time, speaking to a close relative of the teacher.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed "in the strongest terms" the UK's concern at her detention.

On Friday afternoon a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "Consular staff have visited her today and she said she is fine."

He said there were no plans to issue advice to British nationals living and working in Sudan in the light of the trouble, but diplomatic staff were keeping "a close eye" on the situation.

Gillian Gibbons
Mrs Gibbons allowed her class to name the teddy bear Muhammad

 

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said he could not "see any justification" for the sentence, calling it an "absurdly disproportionate response" to a "minor cultural faux pas".

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in the UK and Ireland, said it was "deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

The federation's president, Ali Alhadithi, said: "What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings, and the delicacies of the matter demonstrate that it was not the intention of Gillian Gibbons to imply any offence against Islam or Muslims.

"We hope that the Sudanese authorities will take immediate action to secure a safe release for Gillian Gibbons."

In September, Mrs Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.

The court heard that she was arrested on Sunday after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

Timeline: Sudan

A chronology of key events:

1881 - Revolt against the Turco-Egyptian administration.

Mosque at sunset, Khartoum
Khartoum: Capital is part of a major metropolitan area

 
1899-1955 Sudan is under joint British-Egyptian rule.

1956 - Sudan becomes independent.

1958 - General Abbud leads military coup against the civilian government elected earlier in the year

1962 - Civil war begins in the south, led by the Anya Nya movement.

1964 - The "October Revolution" overthrows Abbud and a national government is established

1969 - Jafar Numayri leads the "May Revolution" military coup.

1971 - Sudanese Communist Party leaders executed after short-lived coup against Numayri

South gets autonomy

1972 - Under the Addis Ababa peace agreement between the government and the Anya Nya the south becomes a self-governing region.

1978 - Oil discovered in Bentiu in southern Sudan.

1983 - Civil war breaks out again in the south involving government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by John Garang.

Islamic law imposed

1983 - President Numayri declares the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law).

1985 - After widespread popular unrest Numayri is deposed by a group of officers and a Transitional Military Council is set up to rule the country.

SPLA rebels drill
Civil war pitted Muslim north against Christian, animist south

 
1986 - Coalition government formed after general elections, with Sadiq al-Mahdi as prime minister.

1988 - Coalition partner the Democratic Unionist Party drafts cease-fire agreement with the SPLM, but it is not implemented.

1989 - National Salvation Revolution takes over in military coup.

1993 - Revolution Command Council dissolved after Omar al-Bashir is appointed president.

US strike

1995 - Egyptian President Mubarak accuses Sudan of being involved in attempt to assassinate him in Addis Ababa.

1998 - US launches missile attack on a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, alleging that it was making materials for chemical weapons.

1998 - New constitution endorsed by over 96% of voters in referendum.

1999 - President Bashir dissolves the National Assembly and declares a state of emergency following a power struggle with parliamentary speaker, Hassan al-Turabi.

Advent of oil

1999 - Sudan begins to export oil.

2000 September - Governor of Khartoum issues decree barring women from working in public places.

Shifa plant in Khartoum; US alleged that it was making materials for chemical weapons
A US missile targeted a Khartoum pharmaceutical plant in 1998
2000 September - President Bashir meets for the first time ever leaders of opposition National Democratic Alliance in the Eritrean capital, Asmara.

2000 December - Bashir re-elected for another five years in elections boycotted by main opposition parties.

2001 February - Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi arrested a day after his party, the Popular National Congress, signed a memorandum of understanding with the southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA).

Food shortages

2001 March - UN's World Food Programme struggles to raise funds to feed 3 million facing famine.

2001 April - SPLA rebels threaten to attack international oil workers brought in to help exploit vast new oil reserves. Government troops accused of trying to drive civilians and rebels from oilfields.

2001 April-May - Police continue arrests of members of Turabi's Popular National Congress party (PNC).

2001 25 May - Police use tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators at funeral of Ali Ahmed El-Bashir from opposition Islamist Popular National Congress party, who died from wounds sustained while being arrested.

Peace plan

2001 June - Failure of Nairobi peace talks attended by President al-Bashir and rebel leader John Garang.

Mother cooks meal in village 900 km south of Khartoum
Civilians in the south's former conflict zone crave lasting peace
2001 July - Government says it accepts a Libyan/Egyptian initiative to end the civil war. The plan includes a national reconciliation conference and reforms.

2001 September - UN lifts largely symbolic sanctions against Sudan. They were imposed in 1996 over accusations that Sudan harboured suspects who attempted to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

2001 October - US President Bush names Senator John Danforth as special envoy to tackle Sudanese conflict.

2001 November - US extends unilateral sanctions against Sudan for another year, citing its record on terrorism and rights violations.

2001 December - More than 14,500 slaves - mainly blacks from the south - are said freed over past six months following campaigning by rights activists.

Ceasefire deal

2002 January - SPLA joins forces with rival militia group, Sudan People's Defence Force, to pool resources in campaign against government in Khartoum.

Sudanese vice-president Ali Osman Taha (L) and Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) leader John Garang
Eight-year peace process ended with deal to end conflict in south

 

Government and SPLA sign landmark ceasefire agreement providing for six-month renewable ceasefire in central Nuba Mountains - a key rebel stronghold.

2002 20 July - After talks in Kenya, government and SPLA sign Machakos Protocol on ending 19-year civil war. Government accepts right of south to seek self-determination after six-year interim period. Southern rebels accept application of Shariah law in north.

2002 27 July - President al-Bashir and SPLA leader John Garang meet face-to-face for the first time, through the mediation of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

2002 October - Government and SPLA agree to ceasefire for duration of negotiations. Despite this, hostilities continue.

Peace in south inches closer

2002 November - Negotiations stall over allocation of government and civil service posts, but both sides agree to observe ceasefire.

2003 February - Rebels in western region of Darfur rise up against government, claiming the region is being neglected by Khartoum.

2003 October - PNC leader Turabi released after nearly three years in detention and ban on his party is lifted.

Uprising in west

Refugees from western Sudanese region of Darfur, 2004
Darfur: Conflict has killed tens of thousands, displaced millions

 
2004 January - Army moves to quell rebel uprising in western region of Darfur; hundreds of thousands of refugees flee to neighbouring Chad.

2004 March - UN official says pro-government Arab "Janjaweed" militias are carrying out systematic killings of African villagers in Darfur.

Army officers and opposition politicians, including Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, are detained over an alleged coup plot.

2004 May - Government and southern rebels agree on power-sharing protocols as part of a peace deal to end their long-running conflict. The deal follows earlier breakthroughs on the division of oil and non-oil wealth.

2004 September - UN says Sudan has not met targets for disarming pro-government Darfur militias and must accept outside help to protect civilians. US Secretary of State Colin Powell describes Darfur killings as genocide.

Government says it has foiled a coup plot by supporters of Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi.

Peace agreement

2005 January - Government and southern rebels sign a peace deal. The agreement includes a permanent ceasefire and accords on wealth and power sharing.

Former southern rebel leader John Garang
Ex-rebel John Garang's time in government was cut short

 

UN report accuses the government and militias of systematic abuses in Darfur, but stops short of calling the violence genocide.

2005 March - UN Security Council authorises sanctions against those who violate ceasefire in Darfur. Council also votes to refer those accused of war crimes in Darfur to International Criminal Court.

2005 April - International donors pledge $4.5bn (£2.38bn) in recovery aid for southern Sudan.

2005 June - Government and exiled opposition grouping - National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - sign reconciliation deal allowing NDA into power-sharing administration.

President frees Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, who was detained in 2004 over an alleged coup plot.

Southern autonomy

2005 9 July - Former southern rebel leader John Garang is sworn in as first vice president. A constitution which gives a large degree of autonomy to the south is signed.

2005 1 August - Vice president and former rebel leader John Garang is killed in a plane crash. He is succeeded by Salva Kiir. Garang's death sparks deadly clashes in the capital between southern Sudanese and northern Arabs.

2005 September - Power-sharing government is formed in Khartoum.

2005 October - Autonomous government is formed in the south, in line with the January 2005 peace deal. The administration is dominated by former rebels.

Darfur conflict

2006 May - Khartoum government and the main rebel faction in Darfur, the Sudan Liberation Movement, sign a peace accord. Two smaller rebel groups reject the deal. Fighting continues.

2006 August - Sudan rejects a UN resolution calling for a UN peacekeeping force in Darfur, saying it would compromise sovereignty.

2006 October - Jan Pronk, the UN's top official in Sudan, is expelled.

African Union soldier in Darfur, 2006
African Union has struggled to contain Darfur violence

 
2006 November - African Union extends mandate of its peacekeeping force in Darfur for six months.

Hundreds are thought to have died in the heaviest fighting between northern Sudanese forces and their former southern rebel foes since they signed a peace deal last year. Fighting is centred on the southern town of Malakal.

2007 April - Sudan says it will accept a partial UN troop deployment to reinforce African Union peacekeepers in Darfur, but not a full 20,000-strong force.

2007 May - International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for a minister and a janjaweed militia leader suspected of Darfur war crimes.

US President George W Bush announces fresh sanctions against Sudan.

2007 July - UN Security Council approves a resolution authorising a 26,000-strong force for Darfur. Sudan says it will co-operate with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

2007 August-September - The worst floods for decades leave more than 250,000 people homeless.

2007 September - UN talks on the composition of a Darfur peacekeeping force end without agreement.

2007 October - The SPLM accuses Khartoum of failing to honour the 2005 peace deal with the southern rebels and suspends its involvement in the national unity government.

2007 November - A British teacher is sentenced to 15 days in jail for insulting religion after allowing students to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Demonstrators call for her to be shot.

Chad rebels declare war on French
UDFF prisoners taken in Chad  on 26 November 07
These rebels were captured after Monday's battle
Rebels in Chad have said they are at war with the French-led European Union peacekeeping force which is due to be deployed in the coming weeks.

The rebels accused French military planes of flying over their positions and passing intelligence to the government during this week's fighting.

France, the former colonial power, retains a military base in Chad.

The EU force is to be sent to the area near the border with Sudan's Darfur, to protect refugees and aid workers.

Chad says that Sudan is behind this week's attacks, because it did not want any western forces on its border.

France and Austria have both said the rebel declaration will not stop them from sending troops.

'Ready to go'

"The UFDD considers itself to be in a state of belligerence against the French army or any other foreign forces on national territory," said Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye, spokesman for the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development.

He accused France of giving "diplomatic, strategic and logistical support" to Chad's President Idriss Deby.

The aftermath of the Abou Goulem battle on 26 November

 

"This is an act of hostility and will be treated as such."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says he will not be deterred.

"If we decided to send a European force... it is precisely because there are problems, difficulties," he said.

Austrian defence ministry spokesman Stefan Hirsch told the AFP news agency that the threat "does not change our determination to take part in this humanitarian mission."

"We are ready to go," he said.

France is expected to contribute the bulk of the 3,500 troops.

The BBC's Stephanie Hancock in the capital, Ndjamena says the French have more than 1,000 troops stationed in Chad and their role has always been very controversial.

But she says the declaration of war on all foreign troops, including the French, will be treated with alarm in Chad, as France is to supply the bulk of the EU troops, which are due to start arriving in January next year.

On Thursday, a different rebel group, the Assembly of Forces for Change (RFC), warned the EU they would be seen as a "foreign occupation force" if they sided with the government of President Idriss Deby.

Both the rebels and the government say that hundreds of fighters have been killed in this week's clashes, which have shattered a month-long ceasefire.

'Losing sleep'

Chad's government said it had wiped out the UFDD, which it said had been armed by neighbouring Sudan.

Map
Chad Prime Minister Nouradine Delwa Kassire Coumakoye again accused Sudan of backing the rebels.

"[Sudanese President] Omar Hassan al-Bashir is losing sleep over the arrival of the UN and EU forces," Mr Coumakoye told reporters.

"He wants to stop the force from coming, because he thinks this force, which will be on the Chadian border, constitutes a danger to him."

Sudan insists that a separate UN peacekeeping force to be sent to Darfur, should not include any western troops. Sudan has previously denied having links to Chad's rebels.

Fierce fighting broke out on Monday between the town of Abeche and the Sudan border.

Both the RFC and UFDD were among the four rebel groups who signed up to a Libya-brokered peace deal just last month.

The proposed EU force has been hit by delays and fears that its French contingent may not be seen as neutral, given France's support for Chad's president.

UK seeks teacher release in Sudan
Gillian Gibbons
Britain said the incident was an "innocent misunderstanding"

 
The Foreign Office is attempting to secure the release of a British teacher jailed in Sudan after children in her class named a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, received 15 days in jail for insulting religion; she will then be deported.

About 300 people protested against Ms Gibbons' actions in Khartoum after Friday prayers.

The Foreign Office was in contact with Sudan's government overnight and will repeat demands for her release.

The teacher's son John, a 25-year-old marketing consultant, told the Daily Mail the family are struggling to take in the punishment.

"It's really difficult at the moment, my head is everywhere," he said.

Mrs Gibbons' son added: "I don't want the verdict to lead to any anti feeling towards Muslims."

'Intense activity'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has contacted Mrs Gibbons' family for a second time, speaking to a close relative of the teacher.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "We are doing all we can to ensure her release. Various intense activity is ongoing but I'm afraid it's not helpful for me to get into the detail of what that is at the moment."

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed "in the strongest terms" the UK's concern at her detention.

The prison conditions are very harsh in Sudan
Jan Pronk
Former UN envoy to Sudan

The Sudanese ambassador, Omer Siddig, was called back to the Foreign Office to explain the decision.

Officials said that during his 45-minute meeting on Thursday Mr Miliband also spoke to the Sudanese acting foreign minister for 15 minutes on the telephone.

'Harsh conditions'

Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he could not "see any justification" for the sentence, calling it an "absurdly disproportionate response" to a "minor cultural faux pas".

A teddy bear on sale in Sudan

The former UN Special Representative to Sudan, Jan Pronk, who was expelled from the country in 2006, said it was best not to protest against the sentence.

"The important thing is to get the lady out as soon as possible. The prison conditions are very harsh in Sudan."

About 300 people marched through the streets of Sudanese capital Khartoum in protest against Mrs Gibbons after finishing prayers on Friday.

Watched by police, the marchers walked through the streets waving their fists - one man waving a sword in the air - shouting "Allah is great".

Chris Ball, a friend and former colleague of Mrs Gibbons, told the BBC she had been "the victim of global political circumstances" and said the guilty verdict was "devastating", although "it could have been a lot worse".

In September, Mrs Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.

The court heard that she was arrested on Sunday after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

'Political circumstances'

The BBC's Adam Mynott, in Khartoum, said Mrs Gibbons apologised to the court for any offence she may have caused.

The school's director, Robert Boulos, told the AP news agency: "It's a very fair verdict, she could have had six months and lashes and a fine, and she only got 15 days and deportation."

Mrs Gibbons escaped conviction for inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs, and will now appeal.

He said Mrs Gibbons would only serve another 10 days in prison, having already spent five in custody since her arrest.

But Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said 15 days in a Sudanese prison for an "innocent misunderstanding" is a "serious and harsh punishment indeed".

The prison Mrs Gibbons is expected to be held in is mainly used to house women convicted of making and selling alcohol.

It is reported to be overcrowded, with 1,200 inmates, and sometimes 20 women and their children sharing a single cell.

Country profile 2: Sudan
Map of Sudan
Sudan is the largest and one of the most diverse countries in Africa, home to deserts, mountain ranges, swamps and rain forests.

It has emerged from a 21-year civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the Animist and Christian south which is said to have cost the lives of 1.5 million people. Southern rebels said they were battling oppression and marginalisation.

OVERVIEW

After two years of bargaining the government and rebels signed a comprehensive peace deal in January 2005.

AT-A-GLANCE
Water sellers on donkey carriage, Khartoum
Humanitarian crisis: Civil war in Darfur region is seen as "one of the worst nightmares in recent history". Sudan allows a small African Union force in Darfur but refuses to accept a large-scale UN peacekeeping deployment
Politics: Omar al-Bashir heads a unity government formed after a peace deal ended 20 years of southern civil war. An independence referendum in the south will follow a six-year period of autonomy
Economy: Oil production and revenues are rising

The accord provides for a high degree of autonomy for the south. The region will also share oil revenue equally with the north. But decades of fighting have left the infrastructure in tatters. With the return of millions of displaced southerners, there is a pressing need for reconstruction.

The economic dividends of peace could be great. Sudan has large areas of cultivatable land, as well as gold and cotton. Its oil reserves are ripe for further exploitation.

But while the government and southern rebels inched closer to peace, fighting broke out in the western region of Darfur in early 2003 when rebels seeking greater autonomy began an insurrection.

The UN says more than two million people have fled their homes and more than 200,000 have been killed. Pro-government Arab militias are accused of carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against non-Arab groups in the region.

The conflict has strained relations between Sudan and Chad, to the west. Both countries have accused each other of cross-border incursions. There have been fears that the Darfur conflict could lead to a wider, regional war.

Sudan's name comes from the Arabic "bilad al-sudan", or land of the blacks. Arabic is the official language and Islam is the religion of the state, but the country has a large non-Arabic speaking and non-Muslim population which has rejected attempts by the government in Khartoum to impose Islamic Sharia law on the country as a whole.

President Omar al-Bashir has been locked in a power struggle with Hassan al-Turabi, his former mentor and the main ideologue of Sudan's Islamist government. Since 2001 Mr Turabi has spent periods in detention and has been accused, but not tried, over an alleged coup plot.

FACTS

  • Full name: Republic of Sudan
  • Population: 35 million (UN, 2005)
  • Capital: Khartoum
  • Area: 2.5 million sq km (966,757 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Arabic; Nubian, others
  • Major religions: Islam, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 55 years (men), 58 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: Sudanese dinar
  • Main exports: Oil, cotton, sesame, livestock and hides, gum arabic
  • GNI per capita: US $640 (World Bank, 2006)
  • Internet domain: .sd
  • International dialling code: +249

LEADERS

President: Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir

Omar al-Bashir formed a government of national unity in July 2005 as part of a deal to end Africa's longest-running civil war.

Sudanese president
Military man Omar al-Bashir led an Islamist-backed coup
The power-sharing administration has included former rebels from the south, scene of a 21-year war which was ended with what is known as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

However, the main party representing the south, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), suspended its participation in the government in October 2007, presenting the biggest challenge to the fragile peace agreement.

The SPLM complained that key elements of the peace deal were being ignored and demanded that they be resolved by January 2008. The peace deal awarded a degree of autonomy to the south.

Omar al-Bashir took power in the June 1989 military coup against the elected government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi.

He dissolved parliament, banned political parties and set up and chaired the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation, which ruled through a civilian government.

He formed an alliance with Hassan al-Turabi, the leader of the National lslamic Front, who became the regime's ideologue and is thought to be behind the introduction of Sharia law in the north in 1991. In 1993 Mr Bashir dissolved the Revolutionary Command for National Salvation, concentrating power in his own hands.

Mr Bashir was elected president in 1996, and Hassan al-Turabi became speaker of parliament. A new constitution was drawn up and some opposition activity was permitted.

Vice President Salva Kiir
Salva Kiir leads a government in the autonomous south
But in late 1999 Mr Bashir dissolved parliament and declared a state of emergency after Mr Turabi tried to give parliament the power to remove the president and to reinstate the post of prime minister. Hassan al-Turabi was later imprisoned, accused of treason after signing a deal with separatist rebels in the south.

President Bashir won re-election in 2000. Supporters of the National Congress Party filled the parliament. The opposition boycotted the poll, accusing Mr Bashir of vote-rigging.

Born in 1944 into a farming family, Omar al-Bashir joined the army as a young man and rose through the ranks. He fought in the Egyptian army in the 1973 war with Israel and led the military campaign against rebels in southern Sudan.

  • First vice president: Salva Kiir
  • Vice president: Ali Osman Taha

    MEDIA


     
    Sudanese broadcasting is highly restricted. State-run radio and TV reflect government policy. Sudan TV has a permanent military censor to ensure that the news reflects official views.

    Newspaper vendors
    The private press enjoys more freedom than state broadcasters
    There are no privately-owned TV stations apart from a cable service jointly owned by the government and private investors.

    Satelllite dishes are a common sight in affluent areas and pan-Arab stations are popular among viewers.

    State-run national radio networks broadcast news, music and cultural programmes. International broadcasters are also heard, including the BBC which is relayed on FM in Khartoum and other parts of the north, and in Juba in the south. Several opposition and clandestine stations broadcast to Sudan.

    The private press enjoys a greater degree of freedom than the state broadcasters and offers a limited forum for opposition views, but the state retains and uses powers to influence what is published.

    In the semi-autonomous south, the lack of infrastructure limits media operations. However, broadcasters and newspapers, some with foreign funding, are active. The region's president has said he wants to "create space for the media to enjoy freedom".

    The press

  • Al-Ra'y al-Amm - private, mass-circulation
  • Al-Ayam - long-established daily
  • Khartoum Monitor - privately-owned, English-language
  • Al-Khartoum - privately-owned
  • Alwan - Khartoum daily
  • Al-Sahafah - daily
  • Al-Anba - government-owned
  • The Juba Post - private weekly in the south

    Television

  • Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation (SNBC) - government-run, operates two channels, also available via satellite
  • Juba TV - government-owned TV in the south

    Radio

  • Sudan National Radio Corporation - government-run, national and regional networks in Arabic, English and other languages
  • Mango 96 FM - private, music-based Khartoum station
  • Miraya (Mirror) FM - operated by UN mission, broadcasts from southern capital of Juba
  • Radio Juba - government-owned radio in the south
  • Liberty FM - in Juba and Yei

    Opposition and clandestine radios

  • Voice of Sudan - operated by opposition National Democratic Alliance (NDA), broadcasts on shortwave
  • Voice of Freedom and Renewal - operated by armed opposition group Sudan Alliance Forces, via shortwave

    News agency

  • Sudan News Agency (Suna) - in Arabic, English and French
  • Teddy row teacher verdict reaction
    Gillian Gibbons
    Gillian Gibbons will be deported after serving her sentence

    British teacher Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been sentenced to 15 days in prison in Sudan after she allowed her pupils to call a teddy bear Muhammad.

    Politicians and religious leaders gave their response to the court's decision.

    DR MUHAMMAD ABDUL BARI, MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN

    This case should have required only simple common sense to resolve. It is unfortunate that the Sudanese authorities were found wanting in this most basic of qualities.

    They grossly overreacted in this sad affair. Gillian should never have been arrested, let alone charged and convicted of committing a crime.

    We hope that Gillian will be able to return home without much further delay.

    BISHOP OF LIVERPOOL, THE RIGHT REVEREND JAMES JONES, ASKED HOW HE FELT ABOUT THE DECISION

    Obviously relief that there won't be the public lashing which everybody feared, but deep disappointment because this was clearly a mistake and I know that the Muslim community here in Liverpool will be as disappointed as anybody.

    I think, too, a real anxiety that something like this so badly handled in this way [and] won't do anything to build up good relations between the faith communities.

    LOUISE ELLMAN MP, LIVERPOOL RIVERSIDE

    What was an innocent error escalated into a charge, and a charge of which she's now been found guilty.

    The fear was that this wasn't seen as an individual issue but as something that could get bound up in international politics.

    MIKE BLAKEMORE, AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL

    The sentence is a mockery of justice and Amnesty International consider Gillian to be a prisoner of conscience.

    She should be immediately and unconditionally released.

    CATHERINE WOLTHUIZEN, FAIR TRIALS ABROAD

    There was no intent on her part.

    A number of people have come forward and made that very clear, both in Sudan and here, that at worst it was just a misunderstanding based on naivety, but even so that a number of her colleagues at the time saw very little wrong, or very little that was likely to cause any offence, in terms of the naming of the bear.

    So I think she is not someone who has sought to cause offence, she's not someone who's acted foolishly, but she perhaps hasn't necessarily understood the extent to which some of the parents might have been sensitive to the use of this name.

    DR ROWAN WILLIAMS, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

    I can't see any justification for this at all.

    I think that this is an absurdly disproportionate response to what is at best a minor cultural faux pas. And I think that it's done the Sudanese government no credit whatever.

    UK teacher jailed over teddy row
    Gillian Gibbons
    Britain said the incident was an 'innocent misunderstanding'

     
    A British teacher has been found guilty in Sudan of insulting religion after she allowed her primary school class to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

    Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, has been sentenced to 15 days in prison and will then be deported.

    She escaped conviction for inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs, and will now appeal.

    Foreign Secretary David Miliband has expressed "in the strongest terms" the UK's concern at her detention.

    The Sudanese ambassador, Omer Siddiq, was called back to the Foreign Office to explain the decision.

    Officials said that during his 45-minute meeting Mr Miliband also spoke to the Sudanese acting foreign minister for 15 minutes on the telephone.

    "There will be further contacts overnight and tomorrow in the search for a swift resolution of this issue," the Foreign Office added.

    I have called in the Sudanese ambassador this evening to explain the decision and to discuss next steps
    Foreign Secretary David Miliband

     

    Before the meeting, Mr Miliband said he was "extremely disappointed" the charges had not been dismissed and repeated his view that it had been an "innocent misunderstanding by a dedicated teacher".

    "Our priority now is to ensure Mrs Gibbons' welfare, and we will continue to provide consular assistance to her," he said.

    "I have called in the Sudanese ambassador this evening to explain the decision and to discuss next steps."

    Meanwhile, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said he could not "see any justification" for the sentence, calling it an "absurdly disproportionate response" to a "minor cultural faux pas".

    Officials at the Foreign Office say the mood has changed as a result of the verdict.

    Staff complaint

    The prime minister, Sudanese embassy officials in London and UK Muslim organisations all expressed the hope that Mrs Gibbons would be released.

    But Sudan's top clerics had 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.

    She could have faced up to 40 lashes if found guilty on all three charges against her.

    In September, Mrs Gibbons allowed her class of primary school pupils to name the teddy bear Muhammad as part of a study of animals and their habitats.

    The court heard that she was arrested on Sunday after another member of staff at Unity High School complained to the Ministry of Education.

    A teddy bear on sale in Sudan

     

    The BBC's Adam Mynott, in Khartoum, said Mrs Gibbons apologised to the court for any offence she may have caused.

    The school's director, Robert Boulos, told the AP news agency: "It's a very fair verdict, she could have had six months and lashes and a fine, and she only got 15 days and deportation."

    He said Mrs Gibbons would only serve another 10 days in prison, having already spent five in custody since her arrest.

    Prosecutor general Salah Eddin Abu Zaid had said Mrs Gibbons could expect a "swift and fair trial".

    But Catherine Wolthuizen, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said Mrs Gibbons' treatment was excessive.

    She said: "It was a very speedy justice process. Although she has been found guilty of all the counts of causing offence, she has thankfully not been subjected to 40 lashes.

    "Having said this, 15 days in a Sudanese prison for an innocent misunderstanding is a serious and harsh punishment indeed."

    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."

    Chad rebels warn EU peace force

    UDFF prisoners taken in Chad  on 26 November 07
    These rebels were captured after Monday's battle
    Rebels in Chad have warned the nascent European Union peacekeeping force they will fight it as a "foreign occupation army" if it sides with President Deby.

    The warning from the rebel Assembly of Forces for Change (RFC) follows a major battle with a different rebel group which shattered a month-long ceasefire.

    The clashes were near the area where 4,000 EU peacekeepers are to be sent - the border with Sudan's Darfur region.

    The government says the attackers were chased to the border and wiped out.

    The BBC's Stephanie Hancock says latest reports from the area say there has been renewed heavy fighting in the past few hours.

    UFDD spokesman Mahamat Hassane Boulmaye told our correspondent that fighting had resumed.

    Chadian army sources, who asked not to be named, also confirmed renewed clashes after an army column advanced from a garrison town near the border with Sudan, to attack a rebel stronghold.

    Both the Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UFDD) rebels and the government say that hundreds of fighters have been killed in this week's clashes.

    Sudan accused

    Chad's government said earlier it had tracked down and destroyed the remnants of the UFDD rebels but their leader Mahamat Nouri had crossed the border into Sudan on foot.

    Map

     

    The government has always accused Sudan of arming the UFDD and is now calling on the government in Khartoum to find Mr Nouri and return him to Chad to face justice.

    Sudan has previously denied having links to Chad's rebels.

    "As far as Chad is concerned, the UFDD has been completely destroyed," government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said after clashes on Wednesday.

    Fierce fighting broke out on Monday between the town of Abeche and the Sudan border.

    Both the RFC and UFDD were among the four rebel groups who signed up to a Libya-brokered peace deal just last month.

    EU force delays

    The proposed EU force has been hit by delays and fears that its French contingent may not be seen as neutral, given France's support for Chadian President Idriss Deby.

    The aftermath of the Abou Goulem battle on 26 November
    Villagers help government soldiers bury their dead
    "The strong involvement of the French is naturally being seen with some scepticism here and there," Austrian Defence Minister Norbert Darabos said.

    Austria is one of the EU contributor nations to the force, which was initially scheduled for deployment this month.

    The delay is reportedly because contributor nations have yet to commit to supplying the required numbers of troops and logistical resources such as aircraft and medical support.

    On Wednesday, Ireland became the latest country to approve its contribution of 400 troops as well as the force leader, Lt Gen Patrick Nash, but the Irish are not expected to arrive in Chad before January or February next year.

    Sudan 'blocking' Darfur mission
    Jean-Marie Guehenno, Head of UN Peacekeeping Operations speaking at the UN headquarters (01/10/2007)
    Mr Guehenno said the UN has to ask whether a mission would work
    Sudanese obstacles could mean the UN mission in Darfur is not viable, the head of UN peacekeeping has said.

    Jean-Marie Guehenno told the United Nations Security Council that excessive demands from Khartoum "would make it impossible for the mission to operate".

    Among other demands, Sudan wants advance notice of troop movements and to be able to shut down communications.

    Mr Guehenno said the UN would have to consider whether a deployment would be worthwhile under such conditions.

    The 26,000-strong United Nations and African Union peacekeeping force, Unamid, is due to take over protecting the people of Darfur in a month's time.

    But Sudan has raised a series of objections which Mr Guehenno said threaten the success of the mission.

    Sudan has still not agreed to the presence of non-African personnel and has not yet given the UN the land it needs to operate nor authorised night flights.

    'Hard choices'

    Mr Guehenno said it would be impossible to operate in Darfur under such conditions.

    Members of the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) stand in front of an armoured personnel car in Darfur (8/11/2007)
    The Unamid force is due to start its mission in a month

    "Should the anticipated discussions fail to clear the path to the deployment of an effective force, the international community will be confronted with hard choices," Mr Guehenno said.

    "Do we move ahead with the deployment of a force that will not make a difference, that will not have the capability to defend itself, and that carries the risk of humiliation of the Security Council and the United Nations, and tragic failure for the people of Darfur?"

    Mr Guehenno added that Sudan's demands "create serious uncertainty with regard to the government's commitment to the deployment of Unamid."

    The Sudanese ambassador responded by saying that the issues were only 'administrative problems' which should not be exaggerated.

    The Unamid mission is aiming to bring security to the Darfur region after more than four years of conflict.

    But it has been plagued by problems blamed on a shortfall in resources and lack of cooperation from Western and African states.

    Sudan 'could free teacher soon'
    Gillian Gibbons
    Gillian Gibbons asked her class to vote on a name for a teddy bear

     
    Sudanese officials have indicated that the British teacher arrested for allowing her class teddy bear to be named Muhammad could be released soon.

    Gillian Gibbons, of Liverpool, may face blasphemy charges for insulting Islam's Prophet. A conviction could mean six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine.

    The Sudan Embassy in London said the situation was a "storm in a teacup", based on a cultural misunderstanding.

    British embassy officials have visited Ms Gibbons, 54, in Khartoum prison.

    Parental complaints

    Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he understood that Ms Gibbons, who is now facing her third day in custody, had not been charged with any offence.

    Mr Brown said consulate officials were in contact with Ms Gibbons' family, and that he felt "very sorry" about what was happening to her.

    He said officials would continue to try to "clarify the position so that she can be released".

    The toy was named in September after children were asked to vote on a name for a teddy bear as part of the class's study of animals and their habitats.

    I am pretty certain that this minute incident will be clarified very quickly
    Dr Khalid al Mubarak
    Sudan Embassy spokesman

    Several parents of children at the Unity High School, in Khartoum, made complaints to the authorities leading to Ms Gibbons' arrest on Sunday.

    It is seen as an insult to Islam to attempt to make an image of the Prophet Muhammad.

    But a seven-year-old pupil in Ms Gibbons' class at the Christian, fee-paying school has jumped to his teacher's defence.

    BBC News Sudan correspondent Amber Henshaw said the boy had chosen the name because it was the same as his own, and he had no idea that it would cause offence.

    He said that he liked Ms Gibbons and he hoped she would return to teach at the school.

    Ms Gibbons has been suspended from her teaching post, and the school has closed until January.

    Standard procedure

    Dr Khalid al Mubarak, a spokesman for the Sudan embassy in London, said he was confident that Ms Gibbons would be cleared quickly.

    He told BBC News: "We have Christian schools in the Sudan, we have Christian teachers who teach Muslim children, which shows a great deal of tolerance.

    "The vice-president of our country is a Christian, we have many ministers who are Christian, and historically we became Christians round about the same time as England.

    "Our relationship with Britain is so good that we wouldn't like such a minute event to be overblown."

    He said what was happening was standard procedure because one of the parents had complained and the police were bound to investigate.

    He added: "I am pretty certain that this minute incident will be clarified very quickly and this teacher who has been helping us with the teaching of children will be safe and will be cleared."

    'Common sense'

    Inayat Bunglawala, assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also said it appeared to have been a "quite horrible misunderstanding" and Ms Gibbons should never have been arrested.

    There was no apparent intention to offend Islamic sensibilities or defame the honour and name of the Prophet Muhammad, he said.

    Map of Sudan
    Gillian Gibbons had been working in Khartoum since August

    Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, said Foreign Office officials were trying to calm things down.

    Ms Gibbons, her constituent, was being held in reasonable conditions in custody but was upset by what had happened, she said.

    And it was unclear how long it would be before Sudanese authorities decided whether to charge her, she added.

    "I hope common sense does prevail and the situation can be seen as what it is - and not an intended insult but something that was misunderstood," said Ms Ellman.

    The Liberal Democrats have announced that their former leader, Lord Steel, will use his meeting in Khartoum with Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir next week to call for the release of Ms Gibbons.

    Fair Trials International said it was hard to say what the teacher, her family and supporters could expect because information about the Sudanese legal system was scarce.

    Sudan teddy insult teacher: Readers' views
    Gillian Gibbons
    British officials are trying to secure the release of Gillian Gibbons
    A British schoolteacher in Sudan may face blasphemy charges for insulting Islam's Prophet after letting her pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad.

    If she is convicted, the punishment could be six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine.

    BBC News website readers, as well as readers of BBCArabic.com, have been sending their reaction to this story.


    My 12-year-old son goes to the same school where Ms Gibbons is a teacher. The culture here, as elsewhere in the Islamic world, is very sensitive. That's why the story took such a direction. Maybe she didn't mean this to happen and it was an innocent mistake. But they don't accept that as an excuse. Lashes is a severe punishment and it is too harsh for what she did. But she has to be punished somehow. She should have learnt more about this society and taken more care about her actions. Me and other parents are not happy about the school closure. The children are going to miss so many classes and they were supposed to have exams next week. Now they have to stay at home and wait.
    Fatima, Khartoum Sudan

    I've been a student at the Unity High School for the last seven years. I am really worried about Miss Gillian. I don't know her because she teaches the younger schoolchildren, but I always see her playing with the kids and making them feel happy. She seems to be a wonderful teacher. I am a Muslim but I am not offended by what she did. She had no idea that it is forbidden. She should be freed.
    Razan, Khartoum, Sudan

    I believe this was a misunderstanding and the authorities are sensitive in light of the recent cartoon fiasco in Europe. I think it will be resolved and Miss Gibbons will eventually be cleared and allowed to go home. But it highlights how sensitive and defensive people have become. I pray it is all resolved soon and Ms Gibbions is allowed home.
    Sultanah, Khartoum, Sudan

    To feel offended by what the teacher did is impossible. She should not be punished for something like that. I believe that the teacher is in her right mind and is aware that she is in an Islamic country. I am sure she knows what can create religious tension and she wouldn't have done such a thing on purpose. The poor lady is being accused of a sin she did not commit. I hope and pray that the UK government will take this seriously and intervene with vigour before things get out of hand. Why aren't Muslim brothers taking more kindly to such things? Sanity my people!
    Salma Aki, Khartoum Sudan

    I was at the Unity High School when the event took place. I am a student there. I think it was a misunderstanding. I feel sorry for the teacher, sadly she lacked common sense. I am supporting Miss Gillian and I hope she can be free soon.
    Mohamed Ahmed Osman, Khartoum, Sudan

    I'm a Muslim and I find it ridiculous that such a harmless incident could incite such hatred. Where is the common sense? There are people called Muhammad who behave worse than animals and yet we have to imprison a teacher for choosing this name for a teddy bear. Simply outrageous.
    Faruq, Singapore

    From BBCArabic.com: Why did she choose this name in particular? There are many other names for these toy bears and children's TV shows are full of them. It is actually an insult to Prophet Mohammed.
    Amira al-Marani, Yemen

    I was born in Sudan. I moved to the UK two years ago. The teacher went to Sudan and she should have learnt the laws of that country. Here in England people think that what she did was an innocent mistake, but I don't think that. She was very wrong to make fun of the Prophet Muhammad. Boys are called Muhammad and that's alright because mothers are proud to name their sons after the Prophet. But to name a teddy bear after him is wrong. The teacher should be punished because she has insulted Islam and Muslim people.
    Meizu, UK

    It looks unintentional. Therefore the teacher shouldn't be punished. However, as a teacher she should be more careful and be thoroughly aware about other faiths in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious global environment. What would the teacher's reaction be if one of the students suggested the name Jesus?
    Ismail, UAE

    From BBCArabic.com: Muhammad is a very common name for Muslims. If we are to punish this teacher for calling a teddy bear Mohammad, then we should punish criminals for being called Mohammad. The truth is that these failed regimes want to keep people busy with these trivial matters. Sudan has enough problems already. How would Sudan feel if European countries deported Sudanese citizens as a response to this action?
    Samer Hassan

    Speaking as a father I do not feel this was a well thought out plan by the teacher. However, I feel that she has done nothing wrong. The children themselves should be punished for having chosen the name of our great Prophet for a lowly bear. The teacher was misguided, whereas the children were malicious. They must be brought to answer for their blasphemy.
    Abdullah Al-Zawawi, Sudan

    This is absolutely insane. I could understand if it was meant as a malicious attack, but it is obvious that this is far from that. It was a simple mistake made by a foreigner in that country. There are many social and cultural mistake that foreigners make in the UK. I hope that they realise soon and release this woman.
    Alex, Northern Ireland

    From BBCArabic.com: It was an unintentional mistake on her part to call the toy Mohammad.
    Riad, Syria

    The children voted as well. They should lock them up too, as a lesson to anybody who insults Prophet Muhammad.
    K K Djibouto, Sudan

    As a committed Muslim who would always hope to uphold the dignity of Prophet Muhammad, I am outraged by the ignorance of the Sudanese authorities. The name Muhammad is given to others and is not exclusive to the Prophet, therefore why should they think the teacher intended the toy to be an effigy? While it is not befitting to give an animal this beautiful name, any half-witted person can see that this was done with good intention. The idea of hardline rules and punishments for such trivial issues is in no way a reflection of the true Islamic teaching and I expected better from Sudan. I believe it makes a mockery of the traditionally upright and just Islamic law system. I hope the school teacher will be freed at once and apologised to.
    Siddiq Bland, Leicester, UK

    From BBCArabic.com: This incident shows how some people insist on insulting Prophet Mohammed in spite of the fact that they know that Muslims respect and venerate him. This teacher lives in a Muslim country and surely she knows how Muslims feel about the Prophet.
    Yohanna Yousuf, Mosul, Iraq

    This is unbelievable. I'm fed up of reading and hearing stupid incidents like these, which further enhance the incorrect portrayal of Islam. The teacher has quite clearly made an innocent mistake. Islam is about tolerance and forgiveness. The possible repercussions of this incident contradict this entirely. It provides more fuel for the anti-Muslim sentiment around the world.
    British Muslim, London, England

    It is ludicrous that Sudanese officials found the actions of this teacher offensive to their religion. By no means did she try to create a visual image of Prophet Muhammad, especially as the visual aid was in fact a harmless stuffed teddy bear. Since visual representation of the Prophet is considered blasphemous, then shouldn't all those Muslim men who are named after the Prophet change their names?
    Nishank Motwani, New Delhi, India

    From BBCArabic.com: The fact that she is English and lives in an Arab country makes her aware of our traditions and values. The English in particular know a lot about us and are respectful in their dealings in Arab countries. I think that if any action is to be taken, it should be to deport her and ask for an official clarification of what she meant by her action.
    Ashraf Morsi

    I am a Muslim, and I must say that the interpretation of the rules has gone too far. I can only expect that the teacher wanted to respect the children's honour of the Prophet by naming the teddy bear after him. It is a popular name. Every other boy in Malaysia has Muhammad as part of his name. I don't think that she intentionally tried to offend the Prophet. Children have a tendency to name favourite objects with their favourite names and, if anything, parents should feel rather proud that their children find the name Muhammad so dear to them. This ridiculous interpretation of Islamic rules should be stopped.
    Syazwina Saw, Malaysia

    From BBCArabic.com: My name is Mohammed. Should my parents be tried for insulting Islam?
    Mohammed

    Warning of Darfur Arab rebellion
    Arab militiaman in Darfur (file pic)
    Sudan denies arming the Janjaweed militias
    Arab groups in Sudan's Darfur region could start their own rebellion, a leading think-tank has warned.

    Some Arab communities felt they had been used by Sudan's government, says the International Crisis Group (ICG).

    The ICG report also criticised the joint UN-African Union approach to Darfur, which led to last month's failed peace talks in Libya.

    Pro-government Arab militias are accused of widespread atrocities against Darfur's black African people.

    At least 200,000 people have died and two million made homeless since black African rebel groups took up arms in February 2002, complaining of marginalisation.

    Arms dealers

    The ICG says over the past year, the fighting in Darfur "has mutated, the parties have splintered, and the confrontations have multiplied".

    Darfur's rebel groups have broken up into numerous different factions - several of whom refused to attend the Libyan talks.

    Map of Sudan
    There have already been deadly clashes over land between different Arab groups in the region.

    "Failure to respond appropriately would leave the international community an unwitting accomplice to the beginnings of Sudan's next war," said the ICG's Africa Research Director Daniela Kroslak.

    The ICG said Sudan's ruling National Congress Party (NCP) was still fuelling the conflict.

    "As part of its military strategy, the NCP has become the primary arms dealer in Darfur."

    Sudan's NCP-dominated government has always denied arming the Arab Janjaweed militias. It says the West has exaggerated the scale of the problems in Darfur.

    Some 20,000 UN peacekeepers are due to arrive in Darfur in the coming months, to boost the 7,000 African Union troops already there.

    Sudan insists the UN troops should all be African, while the rebels have objected to peacekeepers from China - a close government ally.

    'Muhammad' teddy teacher arrested
    Gillian Gibbons
    Gillian Gibbons is described as "a talented and able teacher "
    A British schoolteacher has been arrested in Sudan accused of insulting Islam's Prophet, after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

    Colleagues of Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, said she made an "innocent mistake" by letting the six and seven-year-olds choose the name.

    Ms Gibbons was arrested after several parents made complaints.

    The BBC has learned the charge could lead to six months in jail, 40 lashes or a fine.

    Officials from the British embassy in Khartoum are expected to visit Ms Gibbons in custody.

    "We are in contact with the authorities here and they have visited the teacher and she is in a good condition," an embassy spokesman said.

    The spokesman said the naming of the teddy happened months ago and was chosen by the children because it is a common name in the country.

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

    'Very sensitive'

    The school has been closed until January for fear of reprisals.

    Fellow teachers at Khartoum's Unity High School told Reuters news agency they feared for Ms Gibbons' safety after receiving reports that men had started gathering outside the police station where she was being held.

    The school's director, Robert Boulos, said: "This is a very sensitive issue. We are very worried about her safety.

    They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad
    Robert Boulos
    Director of Unity High School

    "This was a completely innocent mistake. Miss Gibbons would have never wanted to insult Islam."

    Mr Boulos said Ms Gibbons was following a British national curriculum course designed to teach young pupils about animals and this year's topic was the bear.

    Ms Gibbons, who joined the school in August, asked a seven-year-old girl to bring in her teddy bear and asked the class to pick names for it, he said.

    "They came up with eight names including Abdullah, Hassan and Muhammad," Mr Boulos said, adding that she then had the children vote on a name.

    Twenty out of the 23 children chose Muhammad as their favourite name.

    Mr Boulos said each child was then allowed to take the bear home at weekends and told to write a diary about what they did with it.

    He said the children's entries were collected in a book with a picture of the bear on the cover and a message which read, "My name is Muhammad."

    Book seized

    The bear itself was not marked or labelled with the name in any way, he added.

    It is seen as an insult to Islam to attempt to make an image of the Prophet Muhammad.

    Mr Boulos said Ms Gibbons was arrested on Sunday at her home inside the school premises after a number of parents complained to Sudan's Ministry of Education.

    I know Gillian and she would never have meant it as an insult. I was just impressed that she got them to vote
    Muslim colleague in Sudan

    He said police had seized the book and asked to interview the girl who owned the bear.

    The country's state-controlled Sudanese Media Centre reported that charges were being prepared "under article 125 of the criminal law" which covers insults against faith and religion.

    No-one at the ministries of education or justice was available for comment.

    Mr Boulos told the BBC he was confident she would not face a jail sentence.

    One Muslim teacher at the independent school for Christian and Muslim children, who has a child in Ms Gibbons' class, said she had not found the project offensive.

    "I know Gillian and she would never have meant it as an insult. I was just impressed that she got them to vote," the teacher said.

    In Liverpool, a family spokeswoman said Ms Gibbons' grown children, John and Jessica - both believed to be in their 20s - were not commenting on her arrest.

    Map of Sudan
    Gillian Gibbons had been working in Khartoum since August

    "I have spoken with her children and they do not want to say anything and aggravate the situation over there," she said.

    Rick Widdowson the headteacher of Garston Church of England Primary School, where Gillian worked for ten years, added: "We are an Anglican school and I know for a fact that Gillian would not do anything to offend followers of any faith.

    "Certainly she is also very worldly wise and she is obviously aware of the sensitivities around Islam."

    Cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad printed in several European newspapers sparked violent protests around the world in 2006.

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