Massive media publicity was extended to Vince Acors and Michelle Palmer who were said to have had sex on a Dubai beach, were arrested for indecent behaviour, and were sent home after appealing against a tough sentence. This couple had got drunk and one thing led to another. No doubt the hardliners wanted to make an example of them.
However, in the case of David and Fiona Fulton in the Gambia, publicity has been much lower key. The reason is no doubt because they did not have sex on a beach. They have been accused of ‘sedition’, which in this case means they wrote emails criticizing the Gambian government in some way. Also, they are ‘missionaries’, not necessarily in a traditional sense. Mr Fulton is a chaplain in the Gambian army. Mrs Fulton visits the terminally ill. Not sexy then, as far as the British press is concerned.
Their ‘crime’ of sending these emails (as yet, I have seen no information on what may have been in them. People who have received emails from them have testified only to some mild sarcasm. Transparency is not exactly something the Gambian junta have embraced) has resulted in a sentence of one year (one year!) in prison, with hard labour. Exactly what ‘hard labour’ means is unclear, but this sentence is ridiculous. Originally, the Fultons pleaded not guilty but changed their plea to guilty, presumably advised that, as they had little chance of a successful outcome, a guilty plea might have earned them a more lenient sentence.
All this has a background. The Gambian Government, which came to power following a coup, has cracked down on any hint of perceived dissent in the last few years, particularly following an unsuccessful coup attempt in 2006. A recent Amnesty International Report says that:
“the government’s disrespect for the rule of law and the judiciary makes the fight against impunity an uphill battle in Gambia. 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.
“Fear now reigns in Gambia where any person considered to be a perceived enemy of the government is at risk of being arrested, tortured and even killed.”
The Fultons have 20 days in which to lodge an appeal. I’ve been trying to work out what to do, whom to send letters to etc, but I can’t find such a campaign, which seems strange. I guess polite letters to the Gambian President and the Gambian embassy wouldn’t go far wrong, but surely a coordinated campaign would go further than independent letters. Perhaps this will emerge over the next few days.
Edit: Well, here's what we can do. At the website of the Fultons' church, a Pentecostal Church in Bolton, there are email addresses to write to and guidelines on how best to do it, as well as background information. If you're not religious, ignore the call to prayer etc. This is a human rights issue, not a specifically religious matter.