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Six men from Pitcairn Island on Monday launched a challenge to the British laws used to convict them last year of a string of sex crimes that unveiled widespread abuse of women and girls on the tiny island dating from as many as 40 years ago.

The men were found guilty under British law of a range of sex charges on the tiny Pacific island populated in the 18th century by mutineers from Britain's HMS Bounty. They have appealed, contending that British law does not apply on the island.

Sentences of the six men, four of whom face prison terms of up to six years, have been suspended until the appeals have been heard. They have remained free on the island, a dot of land a mile wide and two miles long midway between Peru and New Zealand

Pitcairn has long fascinated the world as the refuge of men who mutinied aboard the Bounty in 1789. They later settled on Pitcairn with their Tahitian brides.

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