British missionary couple seek clemency in Gambia

By staff writers
January 5, 2009

A British missionary couple sentenced to one year's hard labour for writing emails which were interpreted as criticising the Gambian government are hoping for a pardon after a public apology.

Yesterday, David and Fiona Fulton, who come from Devon, asked for clemency in a letter read out on the GRTS state television station.

British diplomats and human rights groups have made a series of private appeals on the couple's behalf.

They originally considered pleading not guilty when accused of sedition, believing that nothing they had written constituted anything other than a concern for the plight of people they worked with.

However the Fultons formally pleaded guilty, in the hope that this would gain them leniency. But the judge was not minded to show mercy. However, the conviction has produced concern and condemnation around the world and the Gambian authorities do not wish it to become a larger incident.

In their public statement, the couple said: “We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to apologise publicly to His Excellency (President Yahya Jammeh) and humbly ask for what will graciously and compassionately show us clemency.”

“We humbly ask that the present proceeding be withdrawn and our passports be returned to us so that we may return to the United Kingdom with our little daughter Elizabeth on a first flight available to us,” they continued.

The Fultons were arrested in Banjul in late November under charges of sedition or inciting resistance to lawful authority for allegedly criticising Gambia in a series of round-robin e-mails related to their Christian missionary work in the predominantly Muslim state.

On 30 December 2008 they were sentenced to one year in prison with hard labour and were adminsitered an additional fine.

“It was not our intention to excite hatred, dissatisfaction and contempt to the President, or government of the Gambia. We humbly apologise totally and unreservedly,” the letter said.

The Fultons have been living and working in Gambia since 1999. David, aged 60, was chaplain for the Gambian army and assisted villages only accessible by boat. Fiona, aged 46, looked after terminally ill people.

According to the Gambian authorities the couple were also running an educational centre and provided free medical care for prison inmates.

In their letter the couple promised, if granted clemency, not to return to Gambia without the government’s permission and said they would “not speak or write in any manner critical of President Jammeh, government or people of the Gambia”.

The predominantly Muslim state has been widely criticised on its human rights and free speech record.

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