Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Gambia Britons admitting sedition

Dave and Fiona Fulton
Mr and Mrs Fulton are being held in separate locations

A Scottish missionary and his wife have pleaded guilty to sedition charges in Gambia, the BBC understands.

David and Fiona Fulton were arrested last month after allegedly criticising the country's government.

Their lawyer has asked for them not to be sentenced until 30 December. They are also believed to have asked the court to show leniency.

Mr Fulton hails from Troon in Ayrshire, while his wife is from Torquay in Devon.

Plea change

They were arrested on 29 November after being accused of undermining the government of Gambia.

Mr Fulton, 60, had been working as a chaplain for the country's army.

He and his 46-year-old wife were charged with sending a letter to individuals and groups criticising Gambia's government.

They had pleaded not guilty, but on Wednesday they changed their plea in front of the court in the country's capital, Banjul.

Their lawyer, Antouman Gaye, told the BBC's Focus on Africa programme that Mr Fulton had then been allowed to read out an apology to the head of state, the government and the Gambian public.

News agency AFP reported that Mr Fulton said: "We are apologising to the people of The Gambia, which we see as our second home and the president in particular for what we have done.

"We have really regretted what we have done and would therefore extend our apologies to each and every Gambian."

David Fulton (far left), Fiona Fulton (centre), Jim Rae (fourth from left)
The couple worked with pastors in The Gambia

The couple promised that if they were fined they would leave the country and vowed not to make any statements seen as a criticism of Gambia.

The court accepted the apology and Mr Gaye said he had then made a plea of mitigation on the Fultons' behalf.

Magistrate Idrissa Mbai adjourned the case until next Tuesday for sentencing.

"Any lawyer will tell you if you plead guilty to a charge, the court is more likely to treat you with leniency because... you have not wasted the courts time and... you have not put the state to the trouble and expense of having a full-blown trial," Mr Gaye said.

Sentences

In light of their charity work, their sentence could be restricted to a fine, he said.

The couple have not been able to meet their bail conditions and, under the country's law, could face up to a year in prison or a fine of 50,000 dalasis (1,256).

Mrs Fulton, and their two-year-old adopted daughter, continued to be held at police headquarters in Banjul.

Her husband, who has lived in Gambia for 12 years, was being held in a different prison.

The prosecution had accused the couple of writing letters to individuals and groups abroad to "bring into hatred or contempt, to excite disaffection" against the Gambian president.

Gambia is one of Africa's smallest countries and has been ruled by President Yahya Jammeh since he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994.

President Jammeh's government has been criticised by international rights groups for its attitude to civil liberties, especially freedom of the press.

The country has a secular constitution, but its population is 90% Muslim.

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