BosNewsLife Africa Service
BANJUL, THE GAMBIA (BosNewsLife)– A Christian missionary couple from Britain remained behind bars in The Gambia Saturday, December 20, and was due in court on Christmas Eve, for allegedly undermining the government of autocratic President Yahya Jammeh.
David Fulton, 60, and his wife Fiona Fulton, 46, lived in Serre Kunda, a town close to the capital Banjul, where they were detained November 29 and moved to seperate prisons, friends said.
They were reportedly charged with „sedition”, or inciting rebellion against the government, a crime that carries up to 25 years of imprisonment.
Police and prosecutors of the African nation said the couple wrote letters to individuals and organizations abroad to “bring into hatred or contempt, to excite disaffection against the President of the Republic and the government of The Gambia.”
Both have denied the charges, but were so far unable to pay the high bail of about $187,000 each, for obtaining temporary freedom, fellow Christians said. The couple, who lived in The Gambia for nine years after first visiting the country as tourists, were paraded on national television earlier this month, before the official charges were announced.
Their friend, Jim Rae, told reporters that the couple’s next court appearance, initially scheduled for this week, had been postponed until December 24, or Christmas Eve.
He said Fiona Fulton had originally been detained at police headquarters in Banjul with the couple’s two-year-old adopted daughter, but had since been moved to another prison. The child is being cared for by associates of the couple’s Bible study group, Christians said.
David Fulton is reportedly being held in a different jail, where he is either refusing to eat or unable to eat. Ray said he did not understand the reactions of Gambian authorities. “There is always a sense of irony in Dave’s letters and stuff like that, but it is not satirical…It’s terrible now. I just don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s so unpredictable,” he told the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “Hopefully he will be sent home to regroup, to rethink.”
Pastor Martin Speed of Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in the town of Bolton, England, with which the couple has links, shares Ray’s suprise over the detentions. “The work [David Fulton] is doing is not political. He’s sharing his Christian faith with people,” he told The Times newspaper. “There does seem to be a growing difficulty of Christians in the country of The Gambia.” a mainly Muslim nation, he added.
About 90 percent of its 1.7 million people are Muslims, according to several estimates.
Fulton helped establish a Gambian branch of the Christian organization Prison Fellowship International. A newsletter published by the Fellowship said David Fulton had fallen foul of The Gambia’s government in the past.
He was “arrested and banned from the prison system” after an inmate complained that he was trying to convert detainees. The Fellowship newsletter reported that Fulton became a Christian while in prison in Britain. “I robbed security cars all over England,” it quoted him as saying.
Fulton also served in the British army before becoming a missionary and moving to The Gambia with his wife and their two children who now live in England. After being banned from The Gambia’s prison system, he became a military chaplain, a role observers said may have put him on collision course with the unpredictable president.
President Jammeh is reportedly prone to outlandish claims and bouts of paranoia that see alleged plotters thrown in jail. In recent years the eccentric 43-year old retired colonel claimed to have a secret cure for AIDS – his prescription is a green herbal paste and a diet of bananas. Jammeh has visited the sick and dying waving his hands over their heads and chanting, rather than supplying anti-retrovirals.
A United Nations official who questioned the the president’s ‘cure’ was thrown out of the country.
Jammeh led a military coup in 1994 that overthrew the president and banned political activity. He won three widely criticized multiparty elections since then.
Advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said recently there was “absolute intolerance of any form of criticism” in The Gambia, with death threats, surveillance and arbitrary night-time arrests the daily lot of journalists “who do not sing the government’s praises”.
Many Gambians reportedly privately disapprove of his autocratic rule, which has seen political opponents and journalists imprisoned without charge, but say Jammeh has done much to improve schools, hospitals and roads.
Advocacy group International Christian Concern (ICC), which closely follows the case of the detained missionaries, urged its supporters to “pray for the quick release of the Fultons and the dropping of all charges against them” and that “David Fulton will get the nutrition he needs.” US-based ICC also asked in a newsletter to “pray for the salvation of the Gambian people.”