The indefinite ban on entering Fiji placed on former Fiji citizen 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 Member Prem Singh, Defence, National Security & Immigration Minister Timoci Natuva said that the ban was indefinite and in accordance with Immigration Act 2003.
Nothing can be farther from truth. Mr Natuva misled Parliament when he said that Professor Lal’s actions were “prejudicial to the peace, defence, public safety, public order and security of Government of Fiji.” According to him, Professor Lal “opposed moves towards democracy after the events of 2006.”
Professor Lal was given 24 hours to leave Fiji in November 2009 after courting illegal arrest at his Suva Point Home. He was detained interrogated and subjected to verbal abuse by a senior military officer for almost three hours at Queen Elizabeth Barracks.
He was then told to leave Fiji within 24 hours or face ‘catastrophic consequences.’
Professor Lal reluctantly left his wife and flew to Australia the next day.
In January 2010, Dr Padma was detained by authorities at Nadi Airport upon arrival from Sydney. At that time, she was working for IUCN, an international organisation 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. Following Fiji’s return to parliamentary democracy after September 17 elections, Professor Lal wrote to Mr Natuva on October 27, 2014 inquiring about the status of the ban.
He said that the reason for the ban had become moot.
On November 24, 2014, Mr Natuva said that he had contacted Director of Immigration and that Professor Lal was free to come to Fiji. He advised Professor Lal to contact Immigration Director Major Nemani Vuniwaqa or Immigration Officer Edward Brown.
Professor Lal wrote to Mr Brown, whose reply was as follows:
“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 (December 16) 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 be in a position to advise whether you can travel to the country or not.”
It is clear that Mr Natuva and Fiji Immigration had no reason to place Professor Lal and Dr Padma on the list of persons banned from entering the country. But they were powerless.
Therefore, Mr Natuva’s answer in Parliament that the ban was in accordance with the Immigration Act 2003 is baseless.
Even more insulting is that Professor Lal, who was honoured by Fiji for his contribution to the country especially for his work on the Constitution Review Commission, is perceived to be a threat to Fiji’s safety and security.
Does it mean that current and former Fiji citizens who are residing overseas and exercising their freedom of speech by making statements against the government, will also be banned from entering Fiji?
Professor and Dr Padma have much to contribute towards the development of Fiji.
The onus is on Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama to rescind the ban and show that the government is not run on the whims of a few individuals.
Dr Biman Prasad is Member of Fijian Parliament elected as a National Federation Party candidate in the general election held on September 17, 2014. The above article was sent to us by his office on March 23, 2015. On March 25, Timoci Natuva told Fiji TV said Brij Lal and his wife Dr Padma Lal can apply for an entry visa.
Dr Padma and Professor Brij Lal