USP staff, students condemn Fiji ‘Gestapo’ tactics, demand Ahluwalia’s return

Prof Pal Ahluwalia
USP's vice-chancellor Professor Pal Ahluwalia with his wife, Sandra Price (waving), being escorted by Fiji officials through the departure lounge at Nadi International Airport this morning. Image: The Pacific Newsrooom

David Robie also blogs at Cafe Pacific. This article is by the journalism team at USP’s Wansolwara newspaper, a partner publication of Asia Pacific Report.

Staff, students and alumni of the University of the South Pacific have called on the Fiji government to immediately reinstate the work permit for vice-chancellor and president Professor Pal Ahluwalia, who was deported today along with his wife, Sandra Price.

The USP community also called on the government to issue a formal apology to Professor Ahluwalia for the violation of human rights.

They expressed grave concern over the actions of police and immigration officials who removed the couple from the vice-chancellor’s residence on Laucala campus late last night.

In a petition issued this afternoon, the group said they were deeply concerned at the disrepute brought to the 12-nation regional university by the actions of the Fiji government in this morning’s deportation.

USP staff associations also condemned the manner in which the couple were removed from their residence and swiftly transported to Nadi International Airport for the 10.30am flight to Brisbane, Australia.

“The manner in which the VCP and his wife were removed is a violation of human rights and due process,” read a joint statement by the USP Staff Union (USPSU) and the Association of USP Staff (AUSPS).

“Given the seriousness of the decision, we demand the Fiji government to provide the justification for this Gestapo tactic.”

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“According to media reports, the VCP was deemed a ‘public risk’ and we as taxpayers, voters and owners of the university demand an explanation on how Professor Pal is a ‘public risk’.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia 2
USP’s Australian Professor Pal Ahluwalia … deported today on a flight to Brisbane. Image: PMW

“Given the impact on the university’s reputation and staff morale, we reiterate our support for the USP Council to proceed with its scheduled meeting to fully discuss this matter and already agreed to agenda items, to arrive at regionally acceptable solutions.”

It is understood police and immigration officers were acting on directives outlined in a letter, allegedly signed by Acting Director for Immigration Amelia Komaisavai.

The document with the Fijian Immigration Department letterhead dated 3 February 2021 with attention to Professor Ahluwalia, noted that the Minister for Immigration had declared the couple prohibited immigrants under the Immigration Act 2003, Section 13 (2) (g) and ordered that they leave Fiji with immediate effect.

USP management are also calling on staff and students to remain calm throughout the situation for the safety and wellbeing of the university community.

“Until the [USP] Council at a council meeting directs otherwise, the senior management team will take on the role jointly of undertaking the vice-chancellor’s duties,” a statement from management read.

“The senior management team has notified the council leadership and are waiting for direction. The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students and the continuation of university operations remain our priority.”

Several community leaders and politicians have come out strong against the surprising tactic.

The USP Council, the university’s highest decision-making body, is expected to meet tomorrow.

Asia Pacific Report collaborates with Wansolwara, the USP journalism newspaper and website. David Robie is editor of Asia Pacific Report and this article was first published here.

A combined meeting of the USP Staff Union (USPSU) and Association of USP Staff (AUSPS) on Laucala campus in Suva, Fiji, today. Staff stood together in solidarity and prayer in support for their deported vice-chancellor, Professor Pal Ahluwalia and his wife, Sandra. Image: Eliki Drugunalevu/Wansolwara