BANJUL, Gambia — A British missionary couple in Gambia have been sentenced to a year in prison at hard labor for sending e-mails critical of Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.
David Fulton, 60, and his wife, Fiona, 47, pled guilty to the charges after their arrest in late November because their lawyer told them it might result in a lighter sentence, but a judge gave them the maximum sentence, saying he intended to send a message to those who "spread hatred against the government." In addition to the prison sentences, the couple was fined the equivalent of about $9,500 each.
The couple apparently sent e-mails to friends and church contacts in Britain that not only discussed their ministry but also described the state of affairs in Gambia and called Jammeh "a madman," according to a report by The Times newspaper of London. A Gambian person in England connected to the Fulton's home church sent copies of the e-mails to Gambian authorities.
Jammeh has ruled Gambia since he led a coup in 1994. The country has been criticized for human rights abuses and press censorship and Jammeh has been ridiculed for claiming to have discovered a banana-based cure for AIDS, according to the British newspaper The Independent.
The Fultons have lived in Gambia for 10 years, according to International Christian Concern (ICC), a based human rights organization that helps persecuted Christians around the world. Mr. Fulton conducted evangelistic efforts in villages accessible only by boat and served as a chaplain with the Gambian army. Mrs. Fulton trained prison chaplains, cared for terminally ill people and visited hospitalized women.
The Fultons have been held in the notorious Mile Two prison since they were sentenced Dec. 30, according to The Independent. Gambian authorities have denied them visitors since their incarceration, in spite of the fact that they both have health problems, according to ICC.
After their conviction, the couple wrote a letter to Jammeh, pleading for clemency.
"We certainly had no intention to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the president or the government of the Gambia," they wrote. "We humbly apologise totally, unreservedly and without exception for anything and everything that we have said that has caused offence and we fully and publicly withdraw any such remarks. We apologise to the Security Services for the trouble we have caused them."
Jonathan Racho, ICC's regional manager for Africa, said his organization was asking the government to release the Fultons, "considering their relentless effort to help the poor and the marginalized section of the society in the country and considering the poor state of their health."
The organization also asked Christians worldwide to pray for the couple.
"Please pray for the safe release of David and Fiona and for their health," Racho said. "Pray that God will give them comfort and courage as they go through this difficult time."
Individuals who want to intercede with Gambian authorities on the Fultons' behalf may contact the country's embassy in the United States by calling (202) 785-1399 or e-mailing [email protected].