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Sudan's President Pardons British Teacher

Lord Nazir Ahmed (left) from Britain's upper house of parliament meets with Britain's ambassador to Sudan, Rosalind Marsden, in Khartoum on Sunday. Charles Onians/AFP/Getty hide caption

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Charles Onians/AFP/Getty

Sudan's president on Monday pardoned a British teacher jailed for insulting Islam after allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad, a British Embassy spokesman said.

President Omar al-Bashir pardoned Gillian Gibbons after two Muslim politicians from Britain's House of Lords met with him to plead for her release.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, who met with al-Bashir along with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, said the case was a misunderstanding and stressed that Britain respects Islam.

In a written statement released by the presidential palace, Gibbons said she was sorry if she caused any offense.

Teacher Apologizes

"I have a great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone," Gibbons said in the statement. "I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends, but I am very sorry that I will be unable to return to Sudan."

Gibbons was released from jail and is in the custody of the British Embassy.

"She is in British Embassy custody and is with the deputy British ambassador," embassy spokesman Omar Daair said. He would not give her exact location or say when she would leave Sudan.

Gibbons, 54, was sentenced Thursday to 15 days in prison and deportation for insulting Islam because she allowed her students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad, seen as a reference to Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Her time in jail since her arrest Nov. 25 counted toward the sentence.

The teacher's conviction under Sudan's Islamic Sharia law shocked Britons and many Muslims worldwide. It also inflamed passions among many Sudanese, some of whom called for her execution.

Gibbons escaped harsher punishment that could have included up to 40 lashes, six months in prison and a fine.

Ghazi Saladdin, a senior presidential adviser, said al-Bashir insisted that Gibbons had a fair trial but pardoned her because of the efforts by the Muslim delegation from Britain.

It was unclear when Gibbons would leave Sudan. Travel agents in Sudan said the first European-bound flights would not leave Khartoum until early Tuesday, but a government official said she would leave Monday.

During her trial, Gibbons 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.

Brown Welcomes News

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was delighted by the news. "Common sense has prevailed," he said in a statement released by his office.

The case also sparked criticism from many Muslims in the West who said Gibbons should have never been arrested. On Monday, Inayat Bunglawala, a spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomed the pardon.

"It will be wonderful to see her back in the U.K. I am sure she will be welcomed by both Muslims and non-Muslims after her quite terrible ordeal at the hands of the Sudanese authorities," Bunglawala said.

There has been concern for Gibbons' safety in Sudan, after crowds — many armed with clubs and swords — burned pictures of her and demanded her execution during a Friday rally in Khartoum.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press