Jailed U.K. Missionaries Seek Presidential Pardon in Gambia

Jan 05, 2009 02:02 PM EST

A missionary couple that was sentenced to one year of hard labor for undermining the authority of Gambia’s government offered a public apology Sunday and asked for a presidential pardon.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to be able to apologize publicly to His Excellency (President Yahya Jammeh) and humbly ask for what will graciously and compassionately show us clemency," stated the letter by David Fulton, 60, and his wife Fiona, 45, which was read in full on the state-owned GRTS television station.

"We humbly ask that the present proceeding be withdrawn and our passports be returned to us so that we may return to the United Kingdom with our little daughter Elizabeth on a first flight available to us," the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

The Fultons were arrested on Nov. 29 and charged on Dec. 4 for distributing “seditious” reports about the government. The couple – which has been living in Gambia for 12 years – allegedly criticized the former British colony in a series of round-robin e-mails related to their Christian missionary work in the predominantly Muslim state.

On Dec. 24, the Fultons pleaded guilty to the charge of sedition and were sentenced on Dec. 30 to one year of imprisonment with hard labor and a fine of about £6,250 in sterling, or $9,080 USD.

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

"It was not our intention to excite hatred, dissatisfaction and contempt to the President, or government of the Gambia," the Fultons expressed in their letter. “We humbly apologize totally and unreservedly.”

According to the Scotsman news agency, the couple initially planned to appeal their sentence, but their lawyer, Antouman Gaye, said they were now hoping for a pardon.

Every January, the president publishes a list of prisoners he feels should be freed because he believes they have shown remorse, and he is expected to publish a new list shortly.

"Nothing would please me more than to see them included in the list of people to be pardoned by the president,” expressed Gaye, according to the Scotsman. “I don't believe it's in the interests of anyone to keep them in prison for the year."

Gambia, an overwhelmingly Muslim country (90 percent), has been ruled under Jammeh’s iron fist since he came to power through a bloodless military coup in 1994.

Jammeh is known to not tolerate dissent, and opposition activists receive death threats and are regularly arrested, beaten and jailed without charge, according to rights groups. He is also known for his eccentric personality and in recent years claimed to possess a secret herbal cure for AIDS.

Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in northwest England, which the Fultons have ties with, has been urging concerned Britons to write letters to the U.K. government, church leaders, and local members of parliament to highlight their case.

“We are shocked and saddened by the severity of the sentence and are doing whatever we can to seek their release,” the church expressed on their website.

The Fultons are reportedly the first foreigners to be slapped with a prison sentence for sedition in the Gambia.