(o) Professor Brij Lal's Detention and Deportation

Please note that this incident was unreported by the Fiji 
media  due to the Public Emergency Regulations

Croz to Bai.
Thanks Bai for the information on Brij's detention (Click here.) There is no excuse for the physical attacks on Brij (if substantiated, they are abhorrent and must be condemned) but we would all be very naive if we thought an outspoken opponent of the regime, with pronounced political views, who is no longer is a Fiji citizen, and who presumably entered Fiji on either a tourist or work permit, would be immune from detention and deportation if he made any political comment during a time of national emergency. This is not to condone his treatment  or the continuance of the Public Emergency Regulations (PER) -- far from it -- but no one, least of all Brij, should have been surprised at his deportation.

Personally, I thought his comments on the High Commission happenings fair and reasoned, and there can be little doubt PER should be lifted.  But the incident further aggravates an already inflamed situation. I wonder what on earth Brij was thinking of when he agreed to give these interviews. He must have known the likely outcomes.

More generally, I believe it is not helpful to ignore realities, however unpleasant they may be. They should be recognized and turned, where ever and when ever possible, towards positive outcomes.  However obdurate the regime, it is the de facto government.Confrontation and the escalation of tensions makes dialogue and engagement -- which is the only peaceful way forward -- even more difficult.

It is easy, of course, for me to write this from New Zealand, but engagement is desperately needed, focusing on the positives. Further disengagement and repetition of the now well-known negatives can only make things worse. This is not letting the regime off the hook; it is a tactical shift to another fishing ground because the fish are not biting where were are currently fishing.

Stewart to Croz.
I could not disagree with you more.
Rod Ewin to many readers.
The diplomatic tit for tat that has been playing out over the past couple of days is one thing, but this is quite another. After the relative moderation and coherence of his press address two days ago, Bainimarama gives way to this self-indulgent folly. I sometimes disagree with Brij's views on various matters but that falls within the scope of a right to disagree and debate, something now also abrogated in Fiji. For VB to sanction Brij's arrest, humiliation and the expulsion simply for saying things that, on this occasion at least, are self-evident to everyone of passing intelligence, seems not merely petulant but extraordinarily politically naive. The incident will inevitably be tied to and consolidate the critique of his expulsion of the diplomats, and negate any political point he might have sought to make by that action. If VB could learn to think awhile before he acted rashly, it might enhance his prospects of managing affairs to a satisfactory conclusion in Fiji.

Bai, replying to Croz.
I can confirm that Brij was manhandled, sworn and spat at. One particular military person used especially foul language through the interrogation until he attended to a phone call. He became more ‘civil’ after taking the call. Officers who arrested Brij Lal came in private cars and were dressed in civilian attire. They were generally courteous.

The treatment meted out to Brij hits at the heart of an academic's work. Critical thinking, dissent and debate are fundamental. What happened to Brij is reminiscent of the experience that several of my friends had in 1987 and with the string of rather heavy handed treatment of outspoken individuals since December 2006. The extension of PER on a monthly basis means that gross violation of fundamental human rights by police and military is possible at the slightest pretext. Brij is an Australian citizen but also the most internationally well known Fiji scholar –a descendant of Girmiteers.

There is a fundamental disconnect between this regime’s avowed aim to lead us to a coup-free, non- racist nirvana, and its treatment of dissenters. I am not sure that genuine democracy will arise out of a barrel of a gun.


Anonymous said…
Oh what's wrong with you bloody academics!

Brij Lal gave an interview in which he acted as an advocate, not a dispassionate academic.

And as an Australian citizen, he was expelled from Fiji.

Had he paid the $F 3000 required to reclaim his blue passport and gain dual nationality, none of this would have happened.

He presumably thought that the provision of the 1997 constitution he co-authored relating to the right of Fiji born people to remain here under any circumstances still stood.

Bad misjudgment. That constitution has been abrogated.

Brij no longer has any right of abode in Fiji. And when he gives an interview which is overtly political, what the hell does he expect?

I'm bored with his sniping from the sidelines from the safety of Canberra. Academic freedom? Go jump!
Anonymous said…
Bainimarama commands and gets respect when he acts irrational, especially from our blinkered neighbours.

Fiji has been treated like a leper in the last 4 years since Bainimarama took control. Turfing out spectators who cast judgement from the sidelines is no big deal. Bainimarama has taken their best shots and punched well above its weight. HE HAS NOTHING MORE TO LOSE.

He has turned things around in Fiji and for once the peoples eyes have been opened. He has gone beyond the point of no return and the people have accepted him. It is time to move on. If Oz and NZ cannot accept this they should take Bob Dylan's advice and "get on a new road if you can't lend a hand".

I like it when Bainimarama acts irrational. People take notice, especially the smug academics who think he plays to their familiar tunes.
Anonymous said…

Stop kidding yourself.

Dialogue and engagement is only meaningful when all parties can accept each other as equals. Oz and NZ have never accepted Bainimarama as a legitimate custodian of the nation. Our arrogant neighbours problem is they believe they are the custodians of the region, running roughshod over smaller island nations, with no regard for their sovereignty. What a bucket of kaka. They can't even find a solution to the flotilla of floating hostels off Australia's northern border.

And as for their flavour of democracy - the very same recipe that brought Hamid Karzai back into power in Afganistan.

Makes me wanna puke.
Anonymous said…
Coup Four and a Half is still reporting that Brij Lal was punched while in detention 18 hours after he denied any such thing.

Can there be any doubt now about the malicious disinformation emanating from these so-called pro-democracy websites?

TVNZ is still reporting the same thing on its website this morning, proof that the Kiwi media doesn't let the facts get in the way of a good story.
Anonymous said…
Some sense at last!

Bainimarama will not be deterred from his mission

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Letters Blog | November 06, 2009 | 0 Comments

BRAVO, Greg Sheridan, for breaking with the pack and highlighting the idiocy and moral hypocrisy of Australia’s policy towards Fiji ("Bainimarama: the only bad boy we can afford to heavy”, 5/11). As he points out, Frank Bainimarama is no murderous tyrant but is isolated and vilified at the same time Canberra kowtows to other regimes with blood on their hands.

How can the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and its cheer leaders at the Australian National University and the Lowy Institute have got it so wrong about Fiji? Because they have a peculiarly narrow mindset and little grasp of the complexities there. They insist on enforcing a bastardised democracy that disadvantages Fiji’s minorities, sacrificing the principle of racial equality in a way that would be unthinkable in Australia.

And, having thrown the political fortunes of nearly half of Fiji’s population to the winds, they want to eviscerate the sole guarantor right now of any prospect of a viable multi-racial future. “That man”—as Kevin Rudd so patronisingly puts it—is Frank Bainimarama. Yes, flawed, capricious, intolerant of dissent but embarked on a crusade to remove race as a determining factor in national life.

Like the military man he is, Bainimarama will not be deterred from completing his mission irrespective of the obstacles placed in his way; sanctions, travel bans, pariah status, the lot. So Canberra needs to realise this and do an about-face, embracing a policy of engagement, persuasion and encouragement—policy not just worthy of our long-standing friendship with Fiji, but smart as well.
Graham Davis
Rozelle, NSW
Collin said…
This WAS reported in the Fiji media! Not sure why you say it wasn't...
Croz Walsh said…
I'm also reporting Brij was assaulted. If I'm wrong, please supply link to his remarks on return to Australia when you say he denied this.
Croz Walsh said…
Collin,You say the Brij Lal incident was reported in the Fiji media. My only access is to their on-line editions and I still can't find a reference to the incident. Please provide the link to the article and I will gladly remove my statement.
joe said…
"Oz and NZ have never accepted Bainimarama as a legitimate custodian of the nation."

Strongly agree with your statement. But why double standards?, as compared to musharraf of pakistan and the thai general? Frank did what was absolutely necessary for all citizens of Fiji. I think what hurts oz & nz is that he got rid of their puppet regime.
Anonymous said…

It is not that Frank did the right thing for Fiji. It is about shifting power bases - Frank being seeen as a leader and role model among Pacific Island nations. Fiji has the third largest (but most disciplined) army this side of the Pacific.
Anonymous said…
My goodness, has Graham Davis read it right! He is well placed to do so. Why is it so impossible for academics like Professor Brij Lal, who after all was born in Fiji, to understand and take the trouble to see that some things cannot remain the same. They cannot and must not remain the same: change is painful but necessary. Why would it be so difficult for a highly trained and qualified person, a 'man of the world' (homme du monde) to fully grasp the necessity for an equality of esteem first (basic good manners, actually) for a useful and progressive dialogue (conversation) to take place on all matters of difference? How is it that someone like Brij Lal would fall into the ditch of mistaken belief that he may say what he wishes in a State of Emergency to an overseas country which is in daily confrontation with a country of which he is no longer a citizen? Seems complete folly to us. We want change and we want it before we register again to vote. We never want to go back where we were before. No 'Status quo ante' - however it was achieved. No one may demand a 'Second Round' of undemocratic democracy as they have tried of Afghanistan (but have now had to settle for 'Second Best'). Peter Galbraith - where are you? Fiji has need of you!