Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Malaysian lawyer barred from entering Fiji

The Star

PETALING JAYA: A member of the Malaysian Bar Council who was selected to join an international team to examine the independence of the judiciary in Fiji has been barred from entering the country.

The “stop arrival order” issued by the interim government to border officials at the Nadi International Airport last Friday was effective from yesterday till this Friday.

Senior lawyer Roger Tan said he was supposed to board the flight from here to Sydney en route to Fiji last Saturday evening.

He was part of an International Bar Association (IBA) delegation scheduled to arrive in Fiji on Sunday evening to examine the independence of the judiciary and the state of the rule of law in the country.

A check on the Malaysian Bar website revealed that the order also prohibited other members of the delegation – including Justice Roslyn Atkinson of the Supreme Court of Queensland, Australia and Felicia Johnston, from the IBA’s Human Rights Institute – from entering Fiji. 

The site reported that Johnston, who arrived in Fiji at 5.30am on Saturday morning from Los Angeles, was unaware of the order when she was denied entry. She left for Brisbane, Australia, seven hours later.

The site quoted Fiji Law Society President Isireli Fa as saying that the action taken by the government was totally unnecessary and had put the country in a bad light.

The site also posted a press release by the IBA yesterday quoting its president Fernando Pombo and executive director Mark Ellis.

While Pombo called on the Fijian interim government to reverse its decision on the bar order, Ellis described the ban as depriving Fijians of “the opportunity to have an open discussion and objective feedback on issues that are clearly of concern for both the country and the international community”.

Malaysian Bar president Ambiga Sreenevasan called the episode “a missed opportunity for the Fiji government to show that its judicial process is above board and that they have nothing to hide”.

“I am confident that the IBA will be very professional and neutral in its observations as they are highly experienced in undertaking missions of this sort,” she said.

Fiji, which achieved independence in 1970, has been affected by several military coups; the most recent being in December 2006.

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