By BosNewsLife Africa Service with BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
BANJUL, THE GAMBIA (BosNewsLife)– The appeal of a frail British missionary detained in The Gambia on what Christians describe as “trumped up” charges of “sedition” has been delayed after prosecutors failed to attend a scheduled hearing and prison authorities did not produce him in court, BosNewsLife learned Wednesday, June 10.
David Fulton, 60, wanted to appeal against an additional conviction for forgery on May 25 but the proceedings were adjourned until Tuesday, June 16, his church said.
“We have news that the appearance on the 25th May did not take place. The new lady magistrate ruled that both the prosecution and Dave must be present at court on the 16th June,” said the Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in the town of Bolton, United Kingdom.
Fulton and his wife Fiona, 46, had initially received sentences of one year’s imprisonment with hard labor in December 2008, after pleading guilty to “sedition” on the advice of a lawyer, who claimed this would ensure more lenient sentences.
Shortly after that hearing, David Fulton was given an additional three years for pleading guilty to forgery, apparently in the hope of receiving the usual sentence of a fine.
The Fultons, who are held separately, are now appealing against their sedition convictions, and Mr. Fulton will also be contesting a new charge of impersonating an army official, confirmed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a Christian rights group that has been closely monitoring the case.
Their supporters have linked the sedition charges to the missionaries’ alleged involvement in criticizing the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who rights groups say believes in witchcraft and has led the tiny African nation with an iron fist.
Among the court’s arguments was an apparent e-mail exchange in which David Fulton allegedly wrote: “This country is sinking fast into a morass of Islam, many people are safe and standing for Christ, but they are the minority”.
Officials defended the punishments. “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,” said Judge Edrissa Mbai at the time. “I will send a clear message to the offenders.”
The trial comes amid international concern about David and Fiona Fulton’s health.
CSW said it has learned that David Fulton has recently recovered from an illness brought on by 102 days of solitary confinement in a cell with no lighting, and no access to exercise, at a high-security prison outside the capital Banjul . “His prescribed hard labour duties now include climbing coconut trees, stripping their bark and physically carrying fifty kilogram bundles.”
The group said that Fiona Fulton has been put on “lavatory cleaning duties” and is “reported to be unwell emotionally and physically, and to have clearly lost weight.”
CSW Advocacy Director Alexa Papadouris told BosNewsLife in a statement that his group was concerned about the missionaries’ health. “It is vital that Mr. Fulton receives a fair hearing on June 16, that the Fultons’ previous convictions for sedition are urgently reviewed, and that Mrs Fulton receives the medical attention she so clearly needs”.
Dave Fulton and his wife Fiona from the town of Torquay in Devon, England, have been in The Gambia since 1996 carrying out missionary activities that included working among soldiers and terminally ill people, their church said.
“Dave is a chaplain to the Gambian service men and women and is in charge of the chaplaincy of the airport. In the last few years he has led many service personnel to the Lord. For the army he has trained seven chaplains, one for each barracks.”
He recently also began preaching in outposts and villages only accessible by boat, a ten-day trip, every month. “But by Gods grace he sees many people receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour,” said Westhoughton Pentecostal Church. “Fiona trained with others in the church to look after terminally ill people and spends time visiting women in their homes and in hospital.”
David Fulton, 60, became a missionary after a controversial past that included leaving the British Army and becoming an armed robber. However Fulton said that while he was jailed,he “found God”, and his wife, a prison visitor. Following his release, the Christian couple moved to The Gambia, where they eventually adopted a girl, Elizabeth, now two, who is currently staying with friends. Their other children, Iona, 20 and Luke, 17, are in the United Kingdom.
Working as Christian missionaries is a challenge in the predominantly Muslim nation where just three percent of the over one million people consider themselves Christians, with just over half of those being Roman Catholic, according to church estimates. Evangelicals are a tiny minority reportedly gathering in mainly small church congregations.
Believe in witchcraft has apparently also made it difficult for Christians and other minorities. Earlier this year, some 1,000 people accused of being witches in The Gambia were locked up in secret detention centers and forced to drink a dangerous hallucinogenic potion, according to human rights organization Amnesty International. At least two people died, Amnesty said.
The group reported that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh invited “witch doctors” from mainly neighboring Guinea — to the West African nation following the death of his aunt.
Jammeh, a former soldier who has ruled The Gambia since leading a military coup in 1994, is reported to believe that witchcraft was involved in her death, according to Amnesty.
Westhoughton Pentecostal Church said it has encouraged Christians to write to the missionaries and short letters to officials, with more details via its Website http://www.westhoughton.org/Gambia.htm