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Australian academic expelled from Fiji

November 4, 2009

Posted 1 hour 40 minutes ago

Updated 12 minutes ago

In custody: Professor Brij Lal was was involved in drafting Fiji’s constitution in 1997. (National Library of Australia)

Fijian-born Australian academic Brij Lal has been ordered out of the Pacific nation just hours after speaking to the ABC about the current diplomatic stoush between the two countries.

Professor Lal’s expulsion is the latest in a series by Fiji’s military ruler Frank Bainimarama, who last night expelled Australia and New Zealand’s high commissioners.

Commodore Bainimarama claimed both countries had been trying to undermine Fiji’s judiciary and weaken the economy.

Today Australia and New Zealand retaliated by expelling Fiji’s top diplomats.

The professor’s family says he was escorted from his home in Suva this afternoon by the military, who refused to provide the reason for his detention or where he was being taken.

He was given 24 hours to leave the country.

Earlier, his family said the military had been refusing to confirm he was in custody.

Professor Lal, from the Australian National University (ANU), is an Australian citizen and a leading academic and researcher on Fiji’s political history.

He was was involved in drafting the country’s constitution in 1997 and has been living in Fiji for the past three months.

The latest row has been described as a tragedy for the Fijian people, and one that will further isolate the Pacific island nation from the rest of the world.

Fiji thrown into confusion

Only hours before his arrest, Professor Lal spoke to ABC Radio’s PM program about the sense of confusion amongst Fijians.

"I think that on the whole there’s a sense of puzzlement and a sense of disappointment that this has come to pass," he said.

"This is unfortunately as tragedy for this country."

In September, Fiji was expelled from the Commonwealth for failing to agree to hold a democratic election by next year.

Today Professor Lal said he was doubtful Commodore Bainimarama’s promised 2014 poll would come to pass.

"I just hope that these diplomatic rifts and other such issues will not be used to delay Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy because at the end of the day, any prolonging of this is simply going to compound the problems of ordinary citizens of this country," he said.

Rudd resists culture of coups

Earlier today, Fiji’s acting Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khayum, told Radio New Zealand the sanctions imposed by Australia and NZ were hampering the rule of law in his country.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says Australia is not about to back away from his government’s tough approach to Fiji.

He says he does not want to see what he calls the culture of military coups spread in the Pacific.

"We are not about to legitimise what is a regime which has obtained power through military force," he said.

"We do not want that culture to spread anywhere else in the South Pacific."

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith insists expelling Fiji’s diplomat is not a tit-for-tat response because Fiji had said it would recall its diplomat anyway.

"Very regrettably we came to the conclusion that the only response could be a proportionate response," he said.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. November 5, 2009 6:56 AM

    The expulsion of Brij Lal is no surprise. Bainimarama is now at the brinkmanship level:there is no turning back now. I just hope he unravels quickly, so the pathway towards a return to democracy sooner, rather than later, can be actioned. What a complete fool – he is acting out the stereotypical behaviours of an unhinged dictator. The world has seen it all before.

  2. ofa permalink
    November 5, 2009 8:50 AM

    Banimarama is consistent and predictable as any self-respecting dictator should be. We can now chose our response. Bow to the chief at our own peril or get rid of the bully. And I am not taking about amnesty guarantees etc. I am talking of a treason trial and severe punishment.

  3. Peace Pipe permalink
    November 5, 2009 9:00 AM

    The junta was just waiting for this opportunity to eject Brij Lal for his say-it-like-it-is frank comments. And I always thought these thugs had thick skins. This knee jerk reaction to criticism of their irrational behavior is uncalled for and further evidence of their suppression of human rights in Fiji.

    Brij Lal’s bold stance in this crisis is commendable.

  4. ofa permalink
    November 5, 2009 9:19 AM

    What will this do to our tourism industry?

    On 3 November New Zealand’s Acting Head of Mission in Fiji was advised by the Fiji interim Government that he was being expelled from the country. The Australian High Commissioner was also advised that he was being expelled. The New Zealand High Commission in Suva will be monitoring the security situation for New Zealanders in Fiji closely. This new expulsion has further depleted staff numbers at the High Commission and may affect the level of consular assistance the High Commission can provide to New Zealanders. New Zealanders in Fiji are advised to exercise particular caution and maintain a low profile.

  5. ex Fiji tourist permalink
    November 5, 2009 10:11 AM

    Fiji’s Chief Justice Anthony Gates triggers expulsions

    Chris Merritt, Legal affairs editor | November 05, 2009

    Article from: The Australian

    THE breach in relations with Fiji has been triggered by one extraordinary man, Chief Justice Anthony Gates, an Australian citizen who appears to believe the role of a judge includes providing briefings for dictators.

    Fiji’s expulsion of envoys from Australia and New Zealand appears to be a direct result of a briefing Justice Gates says he provided to Fiji’s military-appointed leader Frank Bainimarama and to Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

    Commodore Bainimarama has confirmed the briefing was followed by a meeting on Tuesday morning at which “the Chief Justice reiterated his position that the interference by Australian and New Zealand governments in our judiciary undermines the judiciary”.

    For most judges, such intimate contact with the executive arm of government might cause unease. But Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said last night the Chief Justice “provided no policy directive, nor did he have any input into policy”.

    “I imagine your chief justice, I am sure, talks to the Prime Minister of Australia. I am sure he does meet him,” he said.

    Suva has accused Australia and New Zealand of interfering in its affairs through its threat of travel sanctions against Fiji’s judges.

    After Tuesday’s meeting, Commodore Bainimarama issued a statement that quoted what the Chief Justice had told him. Justice Gates had highlighted the fact that interference in another country’s judiciary was unheard of “in the absence of evidence that members of the judiciary are breaching any laws, either internationally or in Fiji”.

    The role of Justice Gates in Fiji society has undergone a major expansion. Mr Sayed-Khaiyum confirmed he had been elevated in the order of precedence so he would now become acting president of Fiji if the newly selected president was absent.

    “It happened months ago in a decree that nobody picked up,” Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.

    It was a former president, Josefa Iloilo, who tore up Fiji’s constitution in April but Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the new role for Justice Gates had no adverse implications for the separation of powers.

    “The chances of the chief justice being head of state in the absence of the president is very, very remote,” he said.

    For Justice Gates, this promotion is the pinnacle of a career that has flourished as democracy in Fiji has withered.

    He came to power in most unusual circumstances. Daniel Fatiaki, who had been chief justice, was suspended after Fiji’s 2006 coup. The then justice Gates became acting chief justice and later, when Justice Fatiaki was removed, he moved up to permanent chief justice.

    His promotion in these circumstances did not go unnoticed by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute.

    Just before former president Iloilo tore up Fiji’s constitution, the IBA issued an adverse report on the rule of law in Fiji. It warned lawyers to be wary about accepting judicial office from the military-backed government because their appointments could be seen as tainted.

    The IBA said the appointment of Justice Gates as chief justice needed to be reviewed to determine if it had breached the Fiji constitution. That review has never taken place.

    The sacking of the entire judiciary took place soon after. But after dropping from sight for weeks, Justice Gates stunned the region’s lawyers when he was one of the first judicial officers to agree to return to office under a justice decree rather than the missing constitution.

    At the time, grave fears had been held for the welfare of Justice Gates. Few believed this British-born and Cambridge-educated lawyer would accept office after the April upheaval.

    The extent of change in Chief Justice Gates can be gauged by the content of a press release he issued on Sunday. It could have been issued by a foreign minister just as easily as a chief justice.

    “The governments of Australia and New Zealand have successively now adopted policies of hostility towards the present Fiji government,” Justice Gates said.

    It was the impact of this hostility on Fiji’s judiciary that pushed the judge to issue his statement. He outlined two key incidents that he used to justify his conclusion that the nation’s judges were under attack.

    Australia and New Zealand have both issued detailed statements that appear to suggest that there are other ways of viewing the “facts” that are outlined in the judge’s press release. Those “facts” formed the basis of the statement by Commodore Bainimarama that explained why he had decided to expel diplomats from Australia and New Zealand.

    The incident involving Australia’s alleged interference took place in Sri Lanka, after seven judges and magistrates withdrew applications for Australian transit visas so they could take up positions in Fiji.

    The key point here is the timing. Australian consular officials contacted all seven Sri Lankans after they had decided to go to Fiji via Korea, not Australia. This meant the question of whether they were to receive Australian visas was irrelevant.

    Australia’s foreign affairs department believes the incident has been misrepresented by the Fijians.

    “It is not the case that visas were refused to individuals travelling from Sri Lanka to take up judicial positions in Fiji,” a departmental spokesman said.

    “In fact, a decision had been made to issue visas to enable them to transit Australia. They did not travel through Australia, however, as they withdrew their visa applications, having decided instead to travel to Fiji via Korea.”

  6. Reg permalink
    November 6, 2009 1:15 AM

    E dua na vosa eratou dou cavuta na gone……….

    DUHH!!!!!!!!

    Did Brij Lal really think that FB was any more likely to tolerate his criticism than criticism from anyone else in Fiji?..

    If FB can throw out the HC’s for Australia and NZ… what is Brij Lal to him..

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