A SENIOR member of the Fijian Bar has for the second time been restricted from travelling beyond the islands, a move he has labelled “a crude instrument of intimidation”.
In an exclusive interview with Lawyers Weekly, Graham Leung, vice-president of Law Asia, a law association for Asia and the Pacific, has come forward about a new and allegedly illegal ban on him to travel outside Fiji.
“It’s a form of thuggery really. It’s consistent with the behaviour one would expect from the persons orchestrating this kind of behaviour. You don’t have to look outside Fiji to find bullies. There are enough here,” he said.
Leung was invited to speak at a seminar in Wellington about Fiji’s electoral system. But he has been told by the Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration that he is on a travel ban preventing him from going. He said he had no prior knowledge of being banned from travel, nor had he been given a reason for the ban or how his name could be taken off the list.
As Lawyers Weekly went to press on Monday, Leung had just returned from the airport in Fiji, where he had been able to confirm that he could not travel. He was given a boarding pass and went through immigration but was stopped at the point he was to give in his passport, he said. He had been booked on a flight to Sydney, from where he was to travel to New Zealand. “I eventually retreated,” he said.
“I couldn’t go any further … Someone said to me my name was blacklisted and unless the Minister for Home Affairs gave clearance I couldn’t leave. He is the coup maker and the interim prime minister. So I did a U-turn. They were quite civil about it and I don’t blame them as the decision rests with the hierarchy,” he said.
Leung said he was feeling philosophical about the morning’s events. “I expected it to happen. [But] I needed to demonstrate by going to the airport that it has actually happened. It would be easy to say I wasn’t stopped, so I needed to check all the arguments. It will be seen on national television that I was making a retreat,” he said.
He said he suspects the ban is a result of recent comments he made in support of the rule of law. He hopes a judicial review of the “arbitrary, unlawful and personal decision” to prevent him from leaving Fiji will remedy the situation. He argues that it is a violation of his rights to travel, as contained in article 34 of the Fiji Constitution.
Leung said the ban was illegal and “downright vindictive”.
“But I guess when you are willing to stand up for the truth you must expect to pay a price for this.
“This is what happens when you live in a country where there is tyranny and the rules are made by the rulers. In a democracy you can hold wrongdoers to account. But we don’t have a democracy in Fiji at the moment,” he said.
“I am not the first person who has been stopped from travelling and I doubt in the present climate whether I’ll be the last. We haven’t seen the end of this yet and I am going to fight this in the courts. The judiciary really is the final saviour for Fiji.”
This is not the first time Leung and other legal professionals have been impacted by the change in government in Fiji. In an interview with Lawyers Weekly in February this year, Leung said he had been forced to stay silent, and gave details about the fate of other lawyers who had been sent to military camps where they have been abused and intimidated.
Leung was prevented from leaving Fiji to travel to New Zealand in February for a work function as a direct result of the December 2006 coup in which the military overthrew the elected government.
The Commonwealth Lawyers Association (CLA) has condemned the move that bans the senior practitioner from travelling. In a letter to the Fijian Government, including the Fijian Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs and Immigration, the CLA wrote that by virtue of its membership of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Fiji is committed to the shared fundamental values and principles of the Commonwealth, “at the core of which is a shared belief in, and adherence to, democratic principles, including freedom of movement”.
“As a prominent member of the international legal community, the practical effect of restricting [Leung’s] freedom of movement is also to restrict his freedom of speech. The travel restrictions have resulted, and will continue to result, in [Leung] being unable to fulfil commitments to participate in and speak at international meetings and events,” CLA president Graeme Mew wrote in the letter.