NAIROBI, Kenya The Sudanese government decided Wednesday to charge a British primary-school teacher with blasphemy, inciting hatred and insulting Islam after she allowed her 7-year-old students to name a class teddy bear Muhammad.
If found guilty, the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, who taught at one of Sudan's most exclusive private schools, could be sentenced to six months and 40 lashes.
"She will be brought in front of a judge, and now she must prove her innocence," said Rabie A. Atti, a government spokesman.
The British government responded by summoning the Sudanese ambassador to the Foreign Office in London.
"We are surprised and disappointed by the developments," said Omar Daair, spokesman for the British Embassy in Khartoum, the capital. "This isn't the way we were hoping it would go."
The charges were made as Sudanese government officials continued to resist efforts to deploy peacekeepers in Darfur and accused several Western countries of being anti-Islamic.
On Tuesday, the British ambassador to the United Nations asked the Security Council to address warrants against a Sudanese official and a militia leader accused of war crimes in Darfur, a troubled region of western Sudan where more than 200,000 people have died. Some Sudanese analysts wondered if charges had been filed against the teacher in retaliation.
The case started in September when Gibbons, who is from Liverpool, began a project on animals and asked her class to suggest a name for a teddy bear. Unity School, where she taught, educates Christian and Muslim students, many of them the children of wealthy Sudanese families and foreign diplomats. It has been closed until further notice because of the controversy.
The class voted resoundingly to name the bear Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim world and the name of Islam's holy prophet.
Gibbons then asked students to take the bear home, photograph it and write a diary about it. The entries formed a book called "My name is Muhammad." Several parents complained, the government said, and Gibbons, 54, was arrested Sunday.
"We don't name animals Muhammad," Rabie said.
In Islam, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a grave offense, and in northern Sudan, where Khartoum lies, it is a crime.
Unity School printed an apology in several major newspapers in Khartoum on Tuesday, saying that the school had not meant to offend Muslims and that Gibbons had acted without informing the school and had been fired.