NATION

How Professor Ahluwalia Left

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission recognises that the State enjoys prerogative powers under the Immigration Act 2003. In the exercise of these prerogative powers, however, the State must act
13 Mar 2021 13:54
How Professor Ahluwalia Left
Professor Pal Ahluwalia at his home on February 4, 2021.

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission recognises that the State enjoys prerogative powers under the Immigration Act 2003. In the exercise of these prerogative powers, however, the State must act at all times in accordance with prescribed law, consistent with its human rights obligations and in consonance with human dignity.

Pursuant to Section 13 (g) of the Immigration Act 2003, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife Sandra Price were declared “prohibited immigrants” and were subsequently removed as per Section 15 of the Immigration Act 2003 on 4th of February 2021.

In light of the allegations of human rights violations in the process of their removal from Fiji, as reported by ABC News on 4th February 2021 as well as the social media by concerned citizens, staff and students of the University of the South Pacific, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission wrote to the Department of Immigration and the Fiji Police Force on the same day.

The Commission brought to the  attention of these authorities the  following allegations:

  • that Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were not informed where they being taken by the officials,
  • that they were manhandled by the officials,
  • that they were only given water while in detention and had no access to medication and
  • that they were subjected to degrading treatment as they were not given privacy to change their clothes.

According to laws

The Commission also contacted Professor Ahluwalia on 7th February, and subsequently on 8th February followed by an e mail on 13th February. On 14th February Professor Ahluwalia wrote back to the Commission indicating that he will endeavour to send a statement in relation to these allegations of human rights violations but the Commission has received no statements to date. Earlier this week, the Department of Immigration furnished the Commission with their response as well as documentary evidence refuting allegations of human rights violations made by Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price at the time of their detention and subsequent deportation to Australia.

The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission has established that processes and procedures that were followed in the detention and subsequent deportation of Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were at all material times in accordance with prescribed law. Section 21 (5) of the Fijian Constitution provides that “every person who is not a citizen but is lawfully in Fiji has the right not to be expelled from Fiji except pursuant to an order of a court or a decision of the Minister responsible for immigration on a ground prescribed by law”. Section 21 (7) (d) of the Fijian Constitution further provides that to the extent that is necessary, a law may limit, or may authorise the limitations of, the freedom of movement and residence “for the purpose of imposing a restriction on the person that is reasonably required to secure the fulfilment of an obligation imposed on the person by law”. Sections 13 and 15 of the Immigration Act confers to the Minister responsible for immigration the power to declare individuals as prohibited immigrants as well as the power to remove prohibited immigrants. In invoking Section 13 (2) (g) of the Immigration Act, there is no expressed requirement in the law for the Minister to give any prior notice to the permit holder and neither does it confer any right to the permit holder to appeal. Section 15 (4) of the Immigration Act provides that a person against whom an order under Section 15 is made may, “before leaving Fiji and while being conveyed to the place of departure, be kept in prison, in police custody or in any other place of custody authorised by the Permanent Secretary, and while so kept is deemed to be in lawful custody”.

The Commission has also  established the following in  relation to allegations raised by Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price: 

(a) Allegation in relation to being manhandled 

  • The team that attended to Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price consisted of Police Officers, Immigration Officials and an officer from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services. They were allowed entry into the premises, following specific instructions issued to ensure the safety of Professor Ahluwalia, Ms Price and the team. There was no damage to the residence inside or on the outside. All officers present on the premises disclosed their identity through official identification cards. Officials were in the premises before curfew.
  • Professor Ahluwalia disregarded numerous requests to hand over his mobile phone and continued to use his mobile phone to contact unknown persons. Ms Price was also repeatedly advised not to use her phone but they continued despite being told not to use their phone. Phones were taken away after repeated requests by the officials to allow an orderly execution of the process and for the safety and security of all parties present.
  •  It is prudent to note, that prior to allowing the team into his residence, Professor Ahluwalia had made at least three calls which were unanswered.
  • Furthermore, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of the South Pacific had also arrived at Professor Ahluwalia’s residence approximately 2 minutes after the team was allowed entry into the residence. He was the independent observer and remained at Professor Ahluwalia’s residence until the team left with Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price for Nadi Airport. As the immigration officials exited the premises, the Department of Immigration confirmed that Professor Ahluwalia himself locked the door and handed the keys to the university official present. Both Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price travelled in the same car. In the course of an interview with the Commission, Department of Immigration officials also revealed that prior to leaving their premises, Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price also participated in a prayer session led by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor.
  • Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were given time to pack their belonging (six suitcases with total weight of 141 kg) after which they left with the team for Nadi Airport. It is prudent to note that Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were accorded consular services from the Australian High Commission when they arrived at the Nadi Airport.
  • The Fijian Immigration Department has refuted the allegation that Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were at any time “roughed up” or manhandled. Indeed, in a subsequent media interview given by Professor Ahluwalia, he states “my wife was particularly courageous all throughout the ordeal and she was the one who smuggled in a phone to call you”. Professor Ahluwalia was alluding to a phone call that Ms Price had made to Islands Business while in detention. From this, it seems that the couple was able to make phone calls whilst in detention.

(b) Information on detention 

  • The Department of immigration has refuted the allegation that Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price did not have knowledge of their detention and subsequent deportation to Australia. At all material times Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were advised that they were being detained and will subsequently be deported to Australia on the next available flight. They were taken to Nadi closer to the scheduled flight to Australia.
  • When the team was allowed entry into Professor Ahluwalia’s residence, he was issued a letter that detailed his immigration status and he and Ms Price were advised they were being detained and will be deported to Australia. They were then given an opportunity to pack their belongings and thereafter departed for Nadi Airport.
  • During the course of travel from Suva to Nadi, the team made a stop to allow Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price to use bathroom facilities in Maui.

(c) Allegations with respect to degrading treatment

  • The Department of Immigration has refuted the allegation that Ms Price was subjected to degrading treatment. When the team was allowed entry into the premises, Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were advised not to use their phones given security concerns.

Ms Price advised she was dressed inappropriately and wished to change. A female member of the team had escorted her to her room to change into what she preferred.

  • Once in her room Ms Price asked the female member of the team to turn around so she could have privacy to change and the female member of the team obliged Ms Price accordingly.
  • In her room, Ms Price tried to make a phone call in the bathroom however, the female member of the team took the phone from Ms Price and in the process the female member of team received an elbow to her chest.
  • After changing, Ms Price immediately packed for her travel to Nadi.

(d) Provision of food and water during detention

  • Given that Professor Ahluwalia and Ms Price were transported to Nadi Airport early in the morning, they were provided with breakfast which included egg and cheese sandwiches, assorted muffins and a hot beverage upon arrival at the Nadi Airport and were accommodated at the VIP lounge at the Nadi Airport.

(e) Access to medication by Professor Ahluwalia

  • Whilst at Professor Ahluwalia’s residence, the Deputy Vice Chancellor advised the team that Professor Ahluwalia was a diabetic and took medication for his health. Numerous requests were made by the Deputy Vice Chancellor to Professor Ahluwalia to write down the list of medication that he requires and the times at which they were to be administered for the benefit of the team, however Professor Ahluwalia refused to provide the same.
  • The Department of Immigration has confirmed to the Commission that at all material times Professor Ahluwalia had a small yellow suitcase of medication which was with him during the travel from Suva to Nadi Airport and has refuted the allegation that Professor Ahluwalia did not have access to his medication. Professor Ahluwalia also informed the team that he had his medication in his backpack which he was carrying at all times. At Nadi Airport Professor Ahluwalia was also given access to his luggage before proceeding to the Nadi Airport VIP lounge.

In the interests of procedural fairness and transparency, the Commission followed the investigations procedure prescribed in the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Commission Act and wrote to all parties concerned to ascertain the facts.

Given the serious nature of the allegations, the Commission acted on its own motion pursuant to Section 30 of the Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Commission Act. In the course of its investigations the Commission has also received complaints against Professor Ahluwalia which the Commission is investigating.

These allegations include: 

1. Staff being coerced into signing petitions in favour of the Vice-Chancellor by the heads of various sections of the university or face non-renewal of contracts; 

2. Unfair discrimination as well as victimization for speaking out because staff are considered either for or against the Vice-Chancellor; 

3. Nepotism and unmeritorious appointments; 

4. Lack of transparency and consistency in the application of policies and procedures in relation to appraisals and inducements;

5. Lack of confidence over the independence of grievance reporting procedures and mechanisms because heads of unions are openly biased;

6. Suspension of staff who are suspected of being whistleblowers. 

Feedback: jyotip@fijisun.com.fj



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