Longtime missionaries David and Fiona Fulton were sentenced by a Gambian court to a year of hard labor last December after pleading guilty — in hopes of a lenient sentence — to sedition charges stemming from a wry comment e-mailed to a prayer list.

After nearly a decade of service in the West African Muslim nation, the Fultons, missionaries from an Assemblies of God church in Britain, experienced a string of difficulties, including a disagreement that led them to part with their local church. At about the same time, David reduced his role as an army chaplain and was assaulted by a man he described as a Muslim fundamentalist.

"Now how [a growing extremist element] should be dealt with, I don't know," David wrote in an e-mail to supporters. "(I have suggested that we arm the Muslims with sticks and the Christians with machine guns and let them fight it out.) [B]ut seriously, while I will defend myself and my family I don't believe that I will or should take any part in a physical proactive role against them, that's the government's job."

Someone on the Fultons' prayer list forwarded the e-mail to Gambian authorities. "This unfortunate comment did not go down well with the authorities, who saw it as incitement," said Khataza Gondwe, the officer for sub-Saharan Africa at Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The e-mail became the basis for the sedition charges. Other charges have followed.

Gondwe said the Gambian prison system is particularly harsh, and the couple appeared quite weak in court. The Fultons are expected to serve their year-long sentence by doing plantation work and paying an $8,600 fine.

The Fultons are not the only missionaries whose e-mails have been used against them. Wycliffe Bible Translators president Bob ...

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