6 Nov 2009

'Horrendous' abuse of Fijian historian before deportation

6:15 am on 6 November 2009

Fiji-born historian Brij Lal is describing his detention by soldiers on Wednesday night before his deportation from Fiji as "horrendous".

Professor Lal, one of the architects of Fiji's annulled constitution, is an Australian citizen but his wife works in Suva and he regularly travels there to be with her.

He says he was interrogated by soldiers about an Australian radio interview he'd done in which he was critical of the expulsion of New Zealand and Australian diplomats from Fiji.

He says he was subjected to verbal abuse and "explosive anger" for several hours. The soldiers told him, he says, that publicly criticising the interim regime in Fiji was not acceptable.

He was not physically abused but Apolosi Bose, Pacific researcher for Amnesty International, says he was humiliated by being made to wait in a dark room and told he'd be killed if he returned to Fiji.

Still hopes to return when the dust settles

Professor Lal, from the Australian National University, is now back in Australia. Despite his experience, he hopes to return to Fiji as soon as he can to finish some research. When the dust settles, he says, he hopes the authorities will realise he is not unpatriotic.

He also hopes Fiji's authorities will not extend their displeasure with him to his wife and other family and friends still living there.

His university is considering making a formal complaint to the Fijian government about his treatment.

Doubts that promised election will be held

Professor Lal, a leading academic on Fiji's political history, was involved in drafting the country's constitution in 1997.

In the Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio interview, he cricitised the military regime's actions and talked about the sense of confusion among people in Fiji.

"I think that on the whole there's a sense of puzzlement and a sense of disappointment that this has come to pass," he told the interviewer. "This is unfortunately a tragedy for this country."

He also said he was doubtful that the election promised for 2014 by interim leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama would come to pass.