Bid to stop whipping over toy bear
( CNN ) - UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday that officials were working to secure the early release of a British teacher who faces being whipped in Sudan after she allowed her class to name a teddy bear "Mohammed."
Gillian Gibbons, 54, has been accused of blasphemy and is being held by police in the capital Khartoum, Kirsty Saunders, British Foreign Office spokeswoman told CNN.
Police arrested the school teacher after she asked her class of seven-year-olds to come up with a name for the toy as part of a school project, according to widespread media reports.
Parents of students at the Unity High School in Khartoum informed the authorities and Gibbons was taken into custody Sunday, Saunders told CNN.
So far Gibbons has yet to be charged with any offense, however, under Sudanese law, insulting Islam is punishable with 40 lashes, a jail term of up to six months or a fine, she said.
However, a Sudanese official told CNN that if police decided that Gibbons had acted in good faith, she would most likely be spared punishment.
"If the intentions are good, definitely she will be absolved and will be cautioned not to repeat this thing again," Mutrif Siddig, Sudan's under secretary for foreign affairs, said.
Saunders said that under Sudan's laws a person can be held for no more than 24 hours without charge.
Asked if British authorities were concerned that Gibbons had been held for longer than that time, she said "we are happy that all the correct procedures are being followed."
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Tuesday he was "very sorry" about Gibbons' arrest and that the British embassy in Khartoum was "giving all appropriate consular assistance to her."
He said all efforts were being taken to ensure her early release and that government officials were in touch with the teacher's family in the northern British city of Liverpool.
A representative for her two grown up children -- her daughter Jessica and son John -- told CNN they wished to be left alone until their mother was released.
Gibbons had been working at the school -- popular with wealthy Sudanese and expatriates -- since August, after leaving her position as deputy headteacher at a primary school in Liverpool this summer.
On her entry on the social networking Web site MySpace, Gibbons wrote: "I am a teacher in a school in Khartoum, in Sudan. I like to make the most out of life."
According to the entry, she said her passion was travel and she was hoping to make the most of her time in Sudan by visiting nearby countries.
According to a report in The Times newspaper, Gibbons had asked the children to pick their favorite name for the new class mascot, which she was using to aid lessons about animals and their habitats.
A member of the Sudanese government told CNN Muslim parents at the school informed the authorities after considering that her actions were offensive to their faith.
Mutrif Siddig, Sudan's under secretary for foreign affairs, said: "To give the name of Mohammed to this teddy bear, it was considered as insult by some parents. And this school is mixed, it is not all Christian students."
Gibbons was recruited to work in Sudan by QTS Worldwide, an education consultancy based in the northern county of West Yorkshire.
Eric Liddell, who runs QTS, refused to comment on the incident but said that he had spoken to members of the Unity High School staff, who were hopeful that the British teacher would be released.
Separately, CNN contacted a member of staff, who confirmed the school had been shut down temporarily as a result of the incident involving Gibbons. He refused to give his name and said no other members of staff were available.
He said the school may open again soon, possibly as early as tomorrow.