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News Release

A gunless future for peaceful Pitcairn Island?

ANGWIN, Calif., USA, September 2, 2004 ----- One Pitcairn Islander stood in front of the Public Notice Board on the tiny South Pacific island wrapped in a mix of deep emotions.

“All guns are to be handed in to myself or the MDP’s by 7th Sept. 04,” the notice, signed by “B. Christian, Police Officer, Pitcairn Island,” read.

“If someone who knows Pitcairn law could show me where the Governor has such powers to do what he is doing, then could you please show me where and on what page in the Pitcairn law book it says such a thing?” asked the Pitcairner in a report made available to the Pitcairn Islands Study Center here.

The gun confiscation order had come from Pitcairn’s governor in connection with an upcoming trial on September 23 of seven Pitcairn men accused of sexual abuse.” There are about 35 Pitcairners on the island who trace their lineage back to the sailors who mutinied on H.M.S. Bounty in 1789.

The Governor, Richard Fell, residing in Wellington, New Zealand, thousands of miles from Pitcairn, says the confiscation is necessary because of what might be heightened tension that could come to the one-mile-wide by two-miles-long island in connection with the trial.

Never in its more than 200-year Euro-Polynesian history, since late 1700s fighting erupted between the mutinous British sailors and Polynesian men, has a gun been used in anger on Pitcairn. Light, single-shot rifles and shotguns on the island are for everyday use such as shooting breadfruit from high in trees, or to take a wild goat for food. All the guns are licensed and registered.

A number of the Pitcairners respond that confiscation of their guns is illegal in that it is not provided for in Pitcairn law, which they have followed since 1838. They also contend it completely ignores the centuries long peaceful nature of the Pitcairners.

The Pitcairner’s report explains that all firearms on the island have previously been required to be licensed by their owners. “The Governor’s confiscation order applies to every person, including those with gun licenses, yet it does not give any reason for this.”

The Pitcairner said he has asked the Governor to tell him if anyone refusing to surrender his or her firearm would be treated as a criminal and lawbreaker, “but he has yet to answer me,” he said.

Some of the Pitcairners feel the Governor’s gun confiscation order, coming as it does weeks before the onset of the trial, is but another of numerous moves he has made that will irrevocable prejudice the outcome of the trial. And the trial, they point out, will not even follow Pitcairn law by using a jury of Pitcairners. Three Governor-appointed New Zealand judges will pass judgment on the accused.

As steel gates and wire fencing that will surround the new, six-cell island jail recently built at the Governor’s order was being offloaded from a supply ship at Pitcairn on Wednesday, September 1, one of the islanders said he found it difficult to hold back the tears.

Some islanders feel that the Governor’s building of a new jail of such size just a couple of months’ in advance of the trial, is yet another move that could prejudice the upcoming proceedings. The ratio of one jail cell in the new Pitcairn jail for less than every five adult Pitcairners possibly makes it one of the largest incarceration facilities per capita in the entire world.

“I believe in justice and mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation, but I have never seen so much money being poured into a system which has so far resulted in anything but that,” the Pitcairner said.

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Pitcairn Islands Study Center, 1 Angwin Ave., Angwin, CA, USA. Herbert Ford, 707-965-6625, 707-965-2047, Fax: 707-965-6504, Email: hford@puc.edu, Website: http://library.puc.edu/pitcairn

  


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