Tuesday, 10 November 2009 11:06 AM

Academic Forced to Leave Fiji

A prominent academic in the region was reportedly taken into detention and interrogated and then forced to leave Fiji for comments regarding the expelling of New Zealand and Australia's high commissioners from Fiji.

According to Australia Network News, Professor Brij Lal was taken into detention in Fiji and "subjected to intense verbal abuse while in detention in Suva, prior to being sent back to Australia'.

According to the report, Professor Lal said he was 'detained on Wednesday for three hours in custody and subjected to a very unpleasant interrogation but not any physical abuse'.

"It is very difficult to distill that experience into words, but intense verbal abuse, foul language and explosive anger on the part of the officer who was interrogating me," he said.

Professor Lal says he was told he was no longer welcome in Fji.

"I was told, in no uncertain terms that I had to leave the country within 24 hours voluntarily," he said.

"They won't deport me, but there was no place for me in Fiji at the moment."


Professor Lal, known as a leading academic and researcher on Fiji's political history, was in Fiji doing research.

He arrived back in Australia on Thursday after his detention on Wednesday following his comments relating to the expulsion by Fiji's military-backed government of the high commissioners of Australia and New Zealand.

According to an interview with Professor Lal by Radio Australia's Pacific Beat, while Fiji's immigration authorities are claiming Professor Lal was not expelled, he states that he has never claimed that he was deported but "was told by the officer interrogating me in absolutely no uncertain terms that I had to leave the country within 24 hours or else".

According to the interview, there has not been a report of Professor Lal's removal in the Fiji media as censorship continues in the country.

In speaking about the censorship in the interview, Professor Lal says:

Mine is not an exceptional case. A number of cases which are which throw bad light on some aspects of what the government has done or is doing, they never get published. There is total darkness. I mean the newspapers operate under huge censorship, the radios; the television broadcasts only that which is approved by the military regime. So I think this is perhaps the most difficult part of living in Fiji. The total blackout on information, which gives rise to all kinds of blog sites and all kinds of other channels promoting information, as well as misinformation and I think this is what is really hurting the people of Fiji, because they cannot talk about what is happening. They cannot exchange ideas in public. You are always looking over your shoulder to see if someone is listening or not and I have been told by many people that this is one aspect of this coup that is different, very different from the ones in the past. In the past, there seemed to be a pattern where after the initial period, leadership was handed back to a civilian authority, whether it was Mara in 1987, or Qarase and others in 1999. But this time around, the military is deeply entrenched and they are intent on remaining in power for a very long period of time.

For the full interview, please follow the link below.

New Zealand's high commissioner to Fiji left the country last week with his family after being expelled by the government and the high commission remains closed, according to Fiji Times Online.
Australia's high commissioner, who was also expelled, was already out of the country when the Fiji government announced the expulsions.

Meanwhile, according to another report by Pacific Beat, anti-government blogsites from Fiji are saying that access to their websites are being blocked.

Several of the websites are reportedly blocked in such a way that people using Fiji-based internet service providers cannot access them. Radio Australia has been contacted by internet users in Fiji who report their attempts to read those blogs result in their computer constantly trying to connect and finally giving an error message. The operator of one of the anti-government blogs, Coup Four Point Five, whose voice we have electronically disguised, says it's clear that something or someone is interfering with internet access in Fiji.

Many blogs have come into existence following the media censorship in the country.

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