U.K. Missionaries Sentenced to Hard Labor in Gambia
Two Christian missionaries in The Republic of Gambia in South Africa have been sentenced to one year's hard labor after pleading guilty to distributing a letter criticizing Gambia's government.
The U.K. couple, who have an adopted 2-year-old daughter, have 20 days to appeal against their sentence in one of Africa's smallest countries.
Mr. David Fulton from Troon in Ayrshire, Scotland, and his wife, Fiona, from Torquay in Devon, England, apologized and admitted the sedition in the hope of a favorable verdict from the magistrate.
"Any lawyer will tell you if you plead guilty to a charge, the court is more likely to treat you with leniency because ... you have not wasted the court’s time and ... you have not put the state to the trouble and expense of having a full-blown trial," their counsel told the BBC's Focus on Africa.
However, the magistrate, Idrissa Mbai, said: "I found the offenses of the accused party to be very shocking and they have shown no respect for the country, the government, and the president of the republic.
"In this country there is a law that one has to obey, whether Gambian or non-Gambian."
At the time of their arrest Mr. Fulton, a previous British army major, had been working as a chaplain to Gambia's military. His wife looked after terminally ill people and visited women in their homes and in hospitals.
The couple met 20 years ago when he was serving a sentence for armed robbery in Channings Wood jail in England. She was a prison visitor talking to inmates about Christianity. They have been in Gambia for 12 years.
After their arrest on Nov. 29, Mr. Fulton was put in solitary confinement at the high-security Mile Two prison outside Banjul. His wife was held with their 2-year-old adopted daughter Elizabeth at a police station in the capital. The couple's two other children, Iona, 20, and Luke, 17, are studying in Exeter, England.
After moving to the country with his wife and children, Mr. Fulton established a branch of the Christian organization Prison Fellowship International in The Gambia and worked in the Gambian prison system.
An article from Prison Fellowship International, in August 2004, states that a prisoner claimed Mr. Fulton was trying to convert prison inmates to Christianity. He was subsequently offered the post of chaplain to the Gambian military.
The country is a former British colony which became independent in 1965. It has been ruled by the same regime since 1994 when Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh claimed the presidency following a bloodless coup.
Despite recent elections being given clean bill of health foreign observers, an Amnesty report said, "Lawyers are reluctant to take on human rights cases for fear of reprisals and families of victims are afraid to speak out. The media, for the most part, censors itself in the face of arrests, fines, threats and physical attacks on those accused of criticizing the government. All public protests have ceased."The Fulton’s 2-year-old daughter will be looked after by friends.