Solomon Islands Lift Ban
DECEMBER 30, 1974, brought special rejoicing to Jehovah’s witnesses in the Solomon Islands. That date marked the lifting of a ban that had prohibited the importing and distributing of the periodicals The Watchtower and Awake! in those Pacific islands. The ban had continued in force for eighteen years.
What brought about the ban on these magazines? Did this cripple the work of Jehovah’s witnesses in the Solomon Islands? What led to the lifting of the ban?
Jehovah’s witnesses have been active in the Solomon Islands since the early 1950’s. During that time a native Solomon Islander, desirous of gaining Bible knowledge, was corresponding with the Watch Tower Society’s office in Australia. In those days there was also a European, a British subject, serving as one of Jehovah’s witnesses in the Solomon Islands.
Then came March 23, 1956. On that day a proclamation by John Gutch, a British official and high commissioner for the Western Pacific, prohibited the importation into the British Solomon Islands Protectorate (B.S.I.P.) of certain publications printed by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, including the two magazines mentioned above.
Shortly thereafter, the European Witness was expelled from the Protectorate. Some may have thought that that would mark the end of the Witnesses in these islands. But things did not work out that way.
The native Solomon Islander mentioned above, who had written to the Watch Tower Society, continued to absorb Bible truth. He and two other natives began sharing the Bible’s message with their neighbors in 1957. This man became the first native of these islands to be baptized as one of Jehovah’s witnesses.
Though not allowed to use The Watchtower and Awake! in their public preaching activities, these zealous Christians worked hard. By August of 1958, there were 11 of Jehovah’s witnesses active in the Solomon Islands. A year later the number jumped to 86, with 49 of them having been baptized during the previous twelve months. By August of 1962, there were 239 Witnesses in the Solomon Islands, and now their number has grown to more than 600.
Solomon Islanders have a hearty spiritual appetite. This is evident from the fact that 2,000 regularly attend local assemblies of Jehovah’s witnesses. And 2,477 showed up for the observance of the Memorial of Christ’s death on April 7, 1974.
It seemed fitting, therefore, to intensify efforts to get the ban on the two main publications of Jehovah’s witnesses removed. How was this accomplished?
Increased Efforts to Get Ban Lifted
The ban had been imposed under British rule. By the latter part of 1973, however, the British Solomon Islands Protectorate was near to attaining self-government. The largely indigenous Governing Council continued to receive more responsibilities. This seemed to be a good time to increase efforts to get the ban lifted.
A Witness who was a native Solomon Islander approached the Secretariat in Honiara and was advised to write to the Chief Secretary. This was done, but time passed with little result. Some members of the Governing Council, who were mostly natives, were approached personally to see if they would raise the matter in the next Council sitting. A few indicated that they would do so, but nothing came of this.
Next, the International Bible Students Association, a legal corporation for Jehovah’s witnesses, wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The reply stated in part: “What ultimately transpires must be a decision of the B.S.I.P. Government and it would not be appropriate for H.M.G. [Her Majesty’s Government] to overrule decisions made locally on matters that are primarily of concern to the local population.” Thus it was necessary once again to approach local leaders.
Then came a new development. There was an election of a Chief Minister and other Ministers who formed a Legislative Assembly. Arrangements were made for an interview with the Chief Minister. He suggested that a petition be made up and addressed to the Governor and signed by as many of Jehovah’s witnesses as possible. This was done, and on November 16, 1974, a petition containing 650 signatures was presented to the Governor. Copies were also provided for the Chief Minister and for all other Ministers of the Legislative Assembly. The petition contained relevant passages with regard to the protection of “Fundamental Rights and Freedoms” guaranteed under Chapter 1 of the British Solomon Islands Order 1974. In part, the petition said:
“We respectfully draw your attention to the First Point under Clause 10 of Chapter 1 of the 1974 Order. ‘Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, and freedom from interference with his correspondence.’ It is our belief that the Christian body of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been deprived of their ‘freedom to receive ideas and information without interference,’ due to the[ir] not being able to receive The Watchtower and Awake! magazines and other publications of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. Furthermore, it is believed that they have not enjoyed full ‘freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference’ due to the[ir] not being able to distribute the aforementioned publications.”
Did this petition bring good results? A letter from Government House dated February 11, 1975, and signed by the Governor of the British Solomon Islands Protectorate included the following:
“Please refer to the Petition dated 6 November 1974 signed by yourself and others. As you will probably have noticed, on 30 December 1974 the Schedule to Proclamation No. 1 of 1956 was amended by deletion of the following terms:–
“‘Any past or future issues of periodical “Awake!”’
“‘Any past or future issues of periodical “Watchtower”.’
“This means that you are at liberty to import and distribute these magazines. I should be grateful if you would inform the other petitioners.”
Recent governmental changes in the Solomon Islands have indeed resulted in greater freedom to communicate ideas. This generates hope in Jehovah’s witnesses that other things requested, such as permission to bring missionaries into the Protectorate, will be granted in due time.