A missionary couple from Britain have been sentenced to a year’s hard labour in an African prison for sedition.

David Fulton, a former army major, and his wife, Fiona, were convicted of sedition after sending critical e-mails about Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in the predominantly Muslim country in a bloodless coup in 1994.

The couple, who were arrested on Nov. 29, pleaded guilty and issued a public apology in the hope of a lenient sentence but were shocked when the judge handed down the maximum penalty for the “shocking offences," the London Times reported.

“They have shown no respect for the country, the government and the president of the republic. I will send a clear message to the offenders,” said Idrissa Mbai, the presiding magistrate.

Antouman Gaye, the couple’s lawyer, said that their troubles began after they sent e-mails to friends and church contacts in Britain. “Some e-mails said the president is a madman. It was very risky,” he said.

“Unfortunately for them, a Gambian person in England who has a connection with one of these churches got hold of these e-mails and sent them back to the police here.”

The couple are being held at Mile Two prison in Banjul, originally a colonial penal institution in the days of the British Empire. A recent Amnesty International said it has received reports that at least 19 people have died there in the past three years.