Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Teddy Bear Arrested in Sudan

This piece was my reaction to the "Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case". When I published it on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 28 November 2007, I didn't expect some of the reactions I received from the anti-satire lobby.

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Governments around the world have expressed outrage at yesterday's arrest and imprisonment of a teddy bear in Khartoum, Sudan.

The stuffed animal, a UK citizen of Chinese origin, was taken into police custody after it emerged he had the same name as a child who had entered the toyshop where he was working. If found guilty of the offence, the teddy bear could face 40 lashes or possibly even be thrown into a room with an overly playful puppy.

Reaction from around the world has been swift.

"We are outraged that a British bear has been treated in such an inursine fashion", read a statement from the UK Foreign Secretary. "We have not seen such maltreatment since the mass exodus of teddy bears from Darkest Peru in the 1950s."

Condemnation also came from countries that have traditionally been closer to Khartoum in the recent past. After mass protests in Beijing in which the Sudanese flag was burned, China recalled its ambassador to Khartoum, and its foreign ministry issued an unusually harsh statement.

"This bear was born in Guangzhou, and we consider the actions of the Sudanese government an attack on all Chinese plush toys", it read. "The teddy bear must be released unharmed immediately."

A source within China's permanent representation to the UN, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his country was drafting a new Security Council resolution that "would be so tough, it would make the Americans and the British seem like the champions of sovereignty". He said they wanted to give the UN/AU hybrid force for Darfur a revised mandate to "shoot anything that moves as long as it's connected to the government".

But a police spokesman in Khartoum defended the state's actions, saying, "This bear has committed a most serious offence. The Sudanese government must be firm in demonstrating that it can easily divert the world's attention away from its failure to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and its continuing instigation of devastating chaos in Darfur."

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