Khartoum correspondent Opheera McDoom looks back at the “teddy bear saga”
The “teddy bear saga” broke on a Monday with the news that Gillian Gibbons had been arrested by authorities. We’re used to stories of people being taken from their homes at night by armed security forces in Khartoum, so I was caught a little by surprise at the immense interest this case attracted. But as the story grew, the world’s press descended on Khartoum and the adrenalin of covering one of the world’s top stories kicked in.
The court case was an agonising and panicked rush in the morning as no one — not even Gibbons’ defence lawyers — was quite sure where the case was going to be heard. Unusually, she was in court the day after charges were pressed . The judge decided to keep going long into the night, and after the busy courthouse had emptied of its usual crowd, before reaching a verdict.
It was a chaotic scene. I bumped into many of my Sudanese journalist colleagues. I had assumed they were there to cover the case, but instead I found that many journalists from the independent press were there for another reason — they had court cases against them for libel or defamation. The editor of Sudan’s leading independent daily and his deputy — two colleagues I really respect in the profession — were being escorted through the courthouse. They were being released after nearly two weeks in jail for defaming the government. And then a dazed and confused Gibbons was led through a crowd of onlookers to the courtroom, escorted by police.
The judge decided on a closed court, usually reserved for military trials, and the police formed a locked line. Shouting loudly, they gradually pushed the crowd, including defence lawyers, journalists and British embassy officials, back away from the court room. After a screaming match, the head defence lawyer was allowed in and, a few hours later, the British consul too. But journalists were edged further and further away as the long day went on.