Pacific Freedom Forum: World is Watching Fiji
For immediate release: November 5th 2009 – The illegal detention, assault and deportation of respected and leading Pacific academic Professor Brij Lal from Fiji must be strongly condemned by the Pacific and global community, says regional media watchdog the Pacific Freedom Forum.
Sources in Fiji confirmed Professor Lal was taken without reason late yesterday afternoon from his Suva Point home where his wife Dr Padma Lal resides. Dr Padma is based in Suva as the Chief Technical Advisor to the Oceania office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was not until 7pm that the military confirmation on her husband’s situation came when the Australian embassy received information that Professor Lal, a Fiji-born Australian citizen, would be deported on the next available flight.
Professor Lal becomes the first academic to be detained and deported from Fiji. Just hours before his detention, he was on ABC Radio being asked his views on the Fiji situation, after the military regime gave marching orders to the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners this week.
"We are saddened and shocked by reports that Professor Lal was abused and threatened. An internationally renowned academic whose life’s work has been the history of Fiji; is plucked from his home without reason and is subjected to abuse to the extent that his ‘signature’ glasses are smashed during a detention. One would expect his interrogating officers to have maintained a minimum standard of conduct when telling detainees their views are unpopular and unwelcome," says PFF chair Susuve Laumaea of Papua New Guinea.
"The military regime must know the world is watching in disgust as free speech is ripped, through acts such as this, from the heart of Fiji."
"Free speech is a basic and universally acknowledged human right. Professor Lal gave an expert opinion and as a leading Pacific scholar, was well within his rights to do so," he says.
"We applaud Professor Lal for his courage in giving so honestly of his expert opinion; despite the obvious repression amongst the media and other civil society sectors," says PFF co chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.
"Fiji’s leaders should take their cue from Pacific Forum leaders; get out of newsrooms and manage their own, and claim their right of reply via their own if not the mainstream media. The fact they took a Pacific treasure and treated him so shamefully, sends a clear message to all in Fiji and outside it as to who the real regional bullies are."
"There are no independent courts to which Professor Lal could appeal to challenge his deportation and abuse. This proves the dire state of the 'rule of law' in Fiji, about which he was commenting to Radio Australia. Again, this completely confirms many earlier reports about how the Fiji regime operates with respect to human rights and media freedom," she says.