Citing rights outlined under the Constitution, the Indigenous Basic Act (原住民族基本法), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR 經濟社會文化權利國際公約) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR 公民與政治權利國際公約), the Taitung County Aboriginal court has acquitted an Aborigine on charges of possessing two rifles and a number of bullets.
The ruling was welcomed by Aboriginal communities.
The man, a Paiwan Aborigine surnamed Chang (張), was detained by the police in March last year after he was found carrying two home-made rifles and bullets in the mountains of Taitung County’s Jinfong Township (金峰). He was subsequently charged with violating the Statute Regulating Firearms, Ammunition, Knives and other Deadly Weapons (槍砲彈藥刀械管制條例).
In a ruling earlier this week, the court said that Chang’s rifles and ammunition were part of his traditional lifestyle, being used for maintaining social order in his tribe, and that they were an important aspect of his identity and culture, as well as a tool that he used to provide his livelihood, and the court therefore acquitted Chang.
Aboriginal rights activist and former Council of Indigenous Peoples vice chairman Adong Upas welcomed the ruling.
“This is belated justice,” he said, adding that Aborigines were justified in possessing firearms, due to their traditional culture and the needs of living in mountain villages.
He added that with or without proper registration of the firearms, most Aborigines adhere to traditional hunting cultural codes and would not use the firearms for criminal activities.
Independent Hualien County Councilor Tipus Ilay of the Amis tribe said some police officers arrested Aborigines simply to fulfill quotas.
“When the police search for rifles that are used for hunting, the Aborigines have to pay a fine or are sentenced by the court. How many Aborigines can afford to pay the high cost of the fines? It can also lead to more social problems,” he said.
Taitung District Prosecutors’ Office chief prosecutor Chiang Meng-chih (江孟芝) said deliberations were still being made on the legality of Aborigines possessing firearms.
“We do not have a comprehensive decision yet. There is still room for discussion on this issue at the Ministry of Interior, the Judicial Yuan and the Ministry of Justice,” he said, adding that people found carrying firearms without a permit were charged according to the merits of each case.
According to court documents, Chang defended his actions by saying that he carried the rifles while cultivating crops in the mountains, because he needed to chase off wild boars that had destroyed his produce before.
The public defender who represented Chang at the court said the homemade rifles were for shooting wild boars and were a tool he used for his livelihood, so he should not be fined for firearm possession.
Chiang said his office would appeal the ruling.
Additional reporting by Hsieh Yin-chung and Yang Yi-chung