A British teacher is facing 40 lashes from police in Sudan where she has been accused of insulting Islam after naming a teddy bear Muhammad.
Gillian Gibbons (54) was being questioned at a police station in the capital Khartoum yesterday.
She had been working at one of the city’s exclusive British schools for the past three months since giving up her job in Liverpool.
Police arrived at the old-fashioned brick-and-stone buildings of the Unity High School on Sunday to arrest Ms Gibbons after a complaint from parents that she had named the teddy after Islam’s most holy prophet.
An angry mob shouted death threats as she was taken away.
The school remained closed yesterday and children were sent home for fear of reprisals from Islamic extremists.
Robert Boulos, the school’s director, said the teacher had made an innocent mistake. "We have lost one of our best teachers.
"She was maybe a little naive but she really had no idea what she was doing, " he said.
The teddy bear had been brought to school by one of Ms Gibbon’s six- and seven-year-old pupils as part of a project.
They were asked to take the bear home each weekend and keep a diary of his activities.
The class voted on a name and settled on Muhammad – also the name of one of the most popular pupils.
"She has done nothing wrong but now we are very concerned that there’s a risk to the school and the students from the men in the street," said Mr Boulos.
He added that the problem only came to light last week after parents complained to the ministry of education.
The school would stay closed until January, he said.
Unity is one of a number of British schools in Khartoum that cater for the children of well-heeled Sudanese professionals or expat oil and aid workers.
Many of the school’s teachers are exiles from the British education system, looking for adventure or better pay.
They find themselves in a country ruled by conservative Muslims, where Islamic law was introduced in 1983.
The country’s religious leaders hosted Osama bin Laden during the 1990s.
Sudanese women must cover their heads and alcohol is banned.
One mother, whose seven-year-old son had hosted the teddy bear for a weekend, said her family had not been offended by the name.
"Our Prophet Muhammad tells us to be forgiving. So she should be released.
"She didn’t mean any of this at all," she said, inside the school courtyard.
A spokesman for the British embassy said consular staff had been to visit Ms Gibbons in her cell.
"She was clearly shaken up but otherwise well," he said.