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Governor pardons pastor who stood up for Jamaican workers a century ago

Friday, July 12, 2019

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HAMILTON, Bermuda (CMC) – Governor John Rankin has granted a posthumous pardon to an American pastor and journalist who was thrown into jail here more than a century ago after he wrote about the unfair treatment of Jamaican workers in Bermuda.

The Reverend Charles Vinton Monk was locked up for libel in 1903 after he exposed the poor conditions endured by people brought in to work on the Royal Naval Dockyard.

Premier David Burt hailed the governor's ruling as a “significant and historic decision” and said he would make a statement in the House of Assembly today.

Burt told the House in June last year that he had asked the Governor to consult the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy about the possibility of a pardon for Monk.

Rankin on Wednesday confirmed that he had granted a free posthumous pardon to Monk, a decision that the Royal Gazette newspaper said it believed was a modern-day first for any British Overseas Territory.

“Posthumous pardons are only granted in the most exceptional of cases.”

“After careful consideration, I am satisfied, however, that in exercising his freedom of expression, the Reverend Monk was seeking to serve the public interest,” the governor said.

“That fact, together with the likely truth of what he wrote and the evident procedural irregularities in the trial, justify the grant of a pardon in this instance.”

Rankin added: “This is an historical case and we can recognise today that the act for which the Reverend Monk was convicted was an act of courage in drawing attention to the unacceptable working conditions to which the Jamaican nationals in Bermuda were being subjected.

“Today is an opportunity to acknowledge Reverend Monk's work in seeking to remove an injustice which was then taking place.”

A writ of pardon signed by the governor stated that he granted “free pardon to the Reverend Charles Vinton Monk in respect of his conviction for criminal libel in the Supreme Court on December 16, 1903”.

Burt told the House last year about a “regrettable chapter in our history which saw a journalist arrested, charged, tried, convicted, fined, and imprisoned for simply reporting the truth.

“Rev Charles Vinton Monk was an American pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church assigned to Pastor Allen Temple's AME Church in Somerset. During his tenure, he witnessed harsh and terrible conditions imposed on Jamaican workers brought to Bermuda to work in the construction of the Royal Naval Dockyard.”

He added: “Journalists have a job to do and where they do it, no matter uncomfortable it may be, their work should be respected and a truly democratic society cannot be said to prosecute, persecute or move to silence the media. The Bermuda of the 20th century did not honour these ideals.

“Some may say, 'Why this and why now'? To that, there is a simple answer: It is never too late to do the right thing.”

On Wednesday, Burt added: “The injustice of Monk's trial and the actual injustice he was determined to expose make the decision a landmark recognition of the importance of the rights of workers and of a free, responsible media.

“Today, the legacy of a tireless journalist shines even brighter,” the premier said.


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