Trial Begins For British Teacher

KHARTOUM, Sudan -- Riot police surrounded the building as a Sudanese court began proceedings Thursday in the case of a British teacher charged with inciting religious hatred -- a crime punishable by up to 40 lashes -- over letting her pupils name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons, in a dark jacket and blue skirt, was not handcuffed but looked tired as she walked into the courtroom in Khartoum, according to reporters inside before media were ordered out of the chamber. Outside, there was confusion as authorities barred British diplomats and Gibbons' employer from entering the building.

Sudan's prosecutor general, Salah Eddin Abu Zaid, said Gibbons, who could face six months in jail and a fine if convicted, will receive a "swift and fair trial."

The case sparked tensions between Sudan and Britain, the country's former colonial ruler. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband was meeting Thursday with Sudan's ambassador to inquire about the case.

"There is an innocent misunderstanding at the heart of this, not a criminal offense," Miliband told reporters.

Officials at the Unity High School, a private school where Gibbons teaches, say the teddy bear was part of a class project to teach her 7-year-old pupils about animals. She asked the students to name the bear and they chose the name Muhammad, a common name among Muslim men.