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Diary of captivity in the Solomons [UPDATED]

Life in captivity

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December 12, 2007 @ 5:47 pm GMT-0500

December 12 (Court Date)

37th Day of Captivity, Court Date

Today is the big day — our trial in Gizo Court! It was a dark and stormy morning, and we all awoke early, wondering if the flight would arrive.

We met our lawyer for the first time last night. We had previously hired a local Solomon Islander to represent us — there is only one in the town! He met with us for an hour, but failed to appear at our plea hearing or to return our calls. We tried other private lawyers in Honiara (the nation’s capital), but none were interested in a case taking place in the distant Western Province. Plus, it being close to Christmas, most people are preoccupied with going home for the holidays. As a last resort, we called the public defender’s office in Honiara, requesting that they assign us a lawyer. One was finally available, but would only be able to arrive the day before our trial, when the next “Twin Otter” light aircraft would fly to Gizo.

We worried that, due to the bad weather, the flight would be delayed and our lawyer would not arrive. Luckily, the plane landed safely at 7:00 p.m. on the nearby island of Nusatupe, and a small boat brought the passengers ashore. She was only assigned to our case yesterday, and our defense files (reportedly mailed last Saturday) were never delivered to their office, so she did not have them. Luckily, I had typed up all the handwritten pages, and we gave her our backup copies. As the meeting that evening was our first interaction with her, and as she alone will represent all four of us when we face the charge, there was a lot of talking to do.

Since our plea hearing had occurred on December 4th (after being postponed twice), we had to return to the boat at 10 p.m., in accordance with our bail terms. This ended our first meeting. The following morning, we all put on our “jungle dress” clothes — a short-sleeved, collared shirt for the men and, as none of us had long pants or even shoes, we wore shorts and sandals. Of course, no better shirt or suit is available in town, even if we wanted to dress better! Daisy seems to have more clothes than the three of us combined, so her problem was simply which ones to wear.

The courthouse is a single room with chicken wire over open-air windows. Inside are four benches for witnesses and observers. There are two desks for the defense and prosecution lawyers, and a larger table for the magistrate (judge). The witness box looks like a crate on its side, with a weathered Bible resting on top. Otherwise, the interior is completely empty. The walls are a coral color, and moldy. There is a single overhead fan positioned above the magistrate’s table that rotates crookedly and not very fast — just enough to ease the hot and humid air into slight motion, which was imperceptible on our side of the courtroom. The only decoration is an ancient, framed photo of the Queen of England.

The Solomon Islands are a former British Colony and member of the Commonwealth — since gaining independence the nation has retained UK legal standards. The photograph looks quite old. I asked Rod, who was certain it was a photo from her coronation in 1952. Nonetheless, there she was, looking down on the humble courtroom in Gizo.

The prosecution lawyer was there, along with a few observers. Luckily, we were not without allies either: A representative from the Australian High Commission (Embassy) was present. The Japanese Embassy declined to send anyone, as they were on “Christmas Holiday.” The U.S. Consulate consists of only one person and her assistant, so I did not expect their attendance, although she had previously been very helpful. Also, two of our friends from the Shortlands were present. Not only were they sitting at our side, but both volunteered to speak on our behalf as character witnesses.

Moments before the hearing, there was a flurry of activity. The police were filing a new charge against Rod. Talk about the 11th hour! Rod had no idea what was going on, but we quickly learned that this was because the police had filed his charges in error, citing the wrong points of the law, and now had to refile the charge. Rod was thus marched off to the station to sign the new charge. In fact, all of our charges were incorrect: a ‘1’ was actually supposed to be an ‘i’!

When the trial finally started, it began with a motion to have the case recessed until tomorrow, as the new charge now had to be sanctioned — a step required of any prosecution of foreigners. The prosecutor then told the court that, “[he] was handed this case moments before catching the plane to Gizo,” and requested a half day to familiarize himself with the file. We were frustrated — more delay! Still, our lawyer assured us, these were circumstances beyond our control, and having the correct charges would actually clarify everything. Nonetheless, we would have to wait. Court had lasted only 18 minutes. We had been all keyed up for things to get underway, so as soon as the new recess was called, we all hit a wall. Dumbfounded, we made our way back to the boat to catch up on sleep from yesterday’s late night.

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