Carrying swords and machetes and waving green Islamic flags, protesters marched through the streets of Khartoum yesterday demanding the execution of British teacher Gillian Gibbons. “No one lives who insults the prophet,” read one of the banners outside the British embassy.
More than 1,000 Muslim demonstrators in the Sudanese capital called for her to be shot or stabbed for insulting Islam after her pupils called a teddy bear Muhammad.
Gibbons, 54, of Liverpool, was sentenced on Thursday night to 15 days in jail followed by deportation in a case that has attracted international condemnation. …
While many in Khartoum thought the arrest was harsh – the Sudanese blogosphere is awash with derision aimed at the authorities – leaflets were distributed at some mosques calling for protests against Gibbons after Friday prayers.
Some protesters arrived at Khartoum’s central mosque on foot, waving knives, clubs and ceremonial swords. Others came on the back of pick-up trucks, covered in printed banners and flags. Initially, the atmosphere was jovial, as the first groups of men moved towards Martyrs Square in front of the president’s palace in central Khartoum. Passersby shook their fists in encouragement and motorists honked their horns. But the mood soon darkened as the crowd swelled to more than 1,000.
Organisers shouted encouragement through megaphones. The crowd responded with traditional Islamic chants, extolling Allah, urging the death of anyone who insulted the prophet Muhammad. Newspaper pictures of Gibbons were burned on a makeshift stage at the heart of Martyrs Square. One protester was seen making a stabbing gesture with his sword. A group of men shouted: “She must be killed by the sword.”
Men wearing traditional robes and turbans leaned out of car windows waving swords and machete-like blades. Individuals shouted threats at western journalists, shouting: “You must go”, and drawing their fingers across their throats.
There was little doubt the protest had been carefully orchestrated. The banners waved by marchers and tied to the front of vehicles had all been pre-printed. Before the verdict, imams across the city also focused on the case in their sermons. One address, broadcast on national radio, accused Gibbons of purposefully comparing the prophet to a bear – an animal that was “alien” to Sudan, he said. “She deserved what she got,” he added.
The police did not intervene, indicating that the protest received the official approval of the authorities. Unauthorised protests held by opposition and other groups in Khartoum have in the past been broken up with teargas.