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Academic deported after commenting on political situation

(PFF/IFEX) - 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 for unknown reasons on the afternoon of 4 November 2009 from his Suva Point home. It was not until 7 p.m. that the Australian embassy received confirmation from the military on Professor Lal's situation, confirming that the Fiji-born Australian citizen would be deported on the next available flight.

Professor Lal is the first academic to be detained and deported from Fiji. Just hours before his detention, he was on ABC Radio being asked about his views on the Fiji situation, after the military regime gave marching orders to the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners.

"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 that their views are unpopular and unwelcome," said 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," added Laumaea.

"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 said.

"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," said PFF co chair Monica Miller of American Samoa.

She added, "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 on Radio Australia. Again, this completely confirms many earlier reports about how the Fiji regime operates with respect to human rights and media freedom," she said.

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