March 23, 2015
Ban on former Fiji residents a mockery of democracy
The indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizens Professor Brij Vilash Lal and Dr Padma Lal makes a mockery of Fiji’s democracy and the conduct of government.
On Wednesday March 18 2015, following a question raised in Parliament by National Federation Party Parliamentarian Honourable Prem Singh, Minister for Defence, National Security and Immigration Honourable Timoci Natuva said the ban on Professor Brij and Dr Padma Lal was indefinite and in accordance with the Immigration Act of 2003.
Nothing can be further from the truth. The fact is that Honourable Natuva misled Parliament when he said Professor Lal’s actions were “prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order and security of Government of Fiji”. He misled Parliament by saying Professor Lal “opposed moves towards democracy after the events of 2006”.
Minister Natuva misled Parliament yet again by saying he reviewed the decision by the former Minister for Defence and concurred with the indefinite prohibited immigrant status.
Professor Lal was given 24 hours to leave Fiji in November 2009 after having been illegally arrested from his Suva Point Home and detained at the Queen Elizabeth Barracks for almost 3 hours. He was interrogated and subjected to verbal abuse by a senior military officer, who currently is the Land Force Commander of the Fiji Military Forces. He was told to leave Fiji within 24 hours otherwise his next trip to RFMF would have catastrophic consequences.
Professor Lal reluctantly left behind his wife Dr Padma Lal and departed for Australia the next day.
In January 2010, Dr Padma Lal was detained by authorities at Nadi Airport upon her arrival from Sydney. Se had travelled to Australia for the festive season. At that time she was working for IUCN – an international organization looking at mangrove conservation and replanting in Fiji. She was detained overnight and forced to leave Fiji the next day.
Like many pro democracy activists, Professor Lal spoke in defence of democracy, freedom and human rights after the coup of December 2006. To say that he opposed moves towards restoration of democracy in Fiji is an insult to a person who is not only an eminent historian but was a member of Constitution Review Commission whose Report led to the formulation of the 1997 Constitution and ended Fiji’s isolation from the international community, particularly the Commonwealth.
Status of Ban
Minister Natuva’s answer in Parliament raises more questions instead of clarifying the issue.
Following Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy after the September 17 elections, Professor Lal wrote to Minister Natuva on 27th October 2014 enquiring about the status of the ban on both him and his wife. He also informed the Minister that reason for the ban (speaking out in defence of democracy) had now become moot following the election of a democratically elected government and furthermore, Australia (of which both are citizens) had removed travel sanctions on all Fijian citizens.
On November 24, 2014, Minister Natuva repled to Professor Lal saying “he (Minister) had contacted the Director of Immigration and that you (Professor Lal) were free to come to Fiji”. Minister Natuva advised him to contact either the Director of Immigration (Major) Nemani Vuniwaqa or an Immigration Officer (Mr Brown).
Immediately Professor Lal e-mailed Mr Brown who replied to him a day later requesting details of the couple’s passports. This was provided.
On 15th December Mr Brown wrote to Professor Lal saying their names were still appearing on the Immigration system and that the instruction had come from the Prime Minister’s Office.
This is the full text of his reply to Professor Lal: –
“The latest development into your case is that both you and your wife’s names are still appearing in our system and we have established that the instructions to put your names on our Controversial List had been given by the Prime Minister’s Office. As such we will be delivering a letter to that office tomorrow the 16th of December seeking their comments and endorsement that your names should no longer be on the list and that the both of you can now travel to Fiji.
Once we get a response from them we will then be in a position to advise you of whether you can travel to the country or not”.
It therefore is abundantly clear that Minister Natuva and the Immigration Department had no reason whatsoever to place Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal on the list of persons banned from entering the country. But they were powerless to do anything as their names were contained in a list provided by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Therefore Minister Natuva’s answer in Parliament that the ban was in accordance with the Immigration Act of 2003 is baseless.
Even more insulting is the fact that Professor Lal, who was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security.
Does it also mean that current and former Fiji citizens who are residing overseas who exercise their freedom of speech by making statements against the Government, will also be banned from entering Fiji?
Professor Lal and Dr Padma Lal have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji. The onus is on the Prime Minister to immediately rescind the ban to show that Government is a collective institution and not run on the whims of a few individuals.