Fiji Coup Coverage

Fiji Indian Wins Asylum Claim On Dubious Grounds

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage, Immigration | Leave a comment

“Jannif Ali came to the Bay Area on a visa with his family in 1989 and applied for political asylum, saying soldiers in his native Fiji had beaten him and dynamited his house. Immigration officials took 14 years to schedule an interview with Ali and then ordered him deported, saying State Department reports showed that conditions in Fiji had improved. But a federal appeals court said Friday that immigration judges hadn’t considered evidence of Fiji’s treatment of minorities since the latest military coup, in 2006, and had looked only at general conditions in the island nation – not the situation of someone like Ali who had been persecuted under a previous military regime.”

- S.F. Chronicle, Mar. 18, 2011.

The case is Ali v. Holder and decided by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Any lawyer who can win an asylum claim for a random Indo-Fijian deserves an award. There’s a drastic world of difference between the Rabuka-led  military coup of 1987 and the Bainimarama-led military coup of 2006. I doubt anyone can even make a claim that Indians in Fiji were collectively better off under Sitiveni Rabuka than they are under Commodore Bainimarama. My Dad was thrown in jail in 1987 just because he was Indian. Today, I could probably hold down a cabinet portfolio in the military government. But the Ninth Circuit does not seem to care about general trends and conditions in the country, which is a sign of progress.

Honestly, Ali should have been granted asylum in the early 90s. It is deplorable that USCIS chose to wait fourteen years before denying his claim. But he certainly does not have much grounds for a well-founded fear of the 2006 regime.

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Pani (Water), Memory and Post-Colonial Identity

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage, Nationalism, Poetry | 2 Comments

Miles from a place fondly called home,
a small plastic bottle of FIJI Water peers at me
through the doors of a convenience store,
teasing and tormenting, begging me to take it back.

I reach out fondly,
only to jerk my hand away.

They say it’s untouched by civilization,
They say it provides jobs,
They swear to carbon-free emissions,
Then why does my body break down in sobs?

Water that leaves my people dehydrated and dead,
Water that kills,
Water that props up an illegal military regime,
Who knew it could have so much power?

Your colonial thirst for a taste of my paradise,
Highly dense and hyper-sexualized,
Life reduced to an exotic merchandise,
The blood of my people actualized.

This plastic bottle is all I have left of a place I’ll never see
With some half-forgotten memories of a country that doesn’t remember me

A Winter Vacation in Chicago

Far away from any colonized setting, glittering and shimmering, sitting on a river of lights next to Lake Michigan, with brand name outlets, world-renowned tourist spots, historical architectural designs, the buzzing energy of a lively place that never rests, this is Chicago, as urbane and metropolitan as it gets in the United States. At first glance, the city does not resonate with any pain, tragedy, or buried untold stories; it seems like a great vacation spot and escape from my own traumatic life. The city, half-imagined, returns to me each night.

Caught in a snow blizzard, I hurry past someone carrying a sign that read “I am just homeless and hungry. God gives to those that give to others.” Almost instantly, blurred images of a distant past flash through my mind. Homelessness is a part and parcel of every city and suddenly, I am not away from home, on any sort of vacation. I freeze, unable to escape my reality. This is not history yet, it is memory—intimate, painful, joyful, personal and nostalgic. Jolted out of my consumerist shopping spree, I realize with strange awe that tragedy, violence, a sense of belonging are not stuck in geographical space; they come with us in our memories, our intimate personalization and self-definitions.

Shaking off the feeling almost instantly, I walk into a convenience store to get some water for my sore throat. Staring at me through the sliding glass doors is a bottle of water from the Fiji Islands. Face to face with my reality, I stand there gazing at the tiny bottle as my mind once again loads and runs a cinematic reel. Half-remembered and half-forgotten memories from another place and time, now encompassed by this beautiful luminescent blue bottle, conjures up an entire history.

It’s problematic to hold a bottle of FIJI water with such nostalgic tenderness and pride, especially since it is owned by an US company, and yet we do it. When I discussed this with a friend from Canada, she admitted that she went into a gas station on her way to Los Angeles and bought a bottle of FIJI Water, because it is a Kai-India (Fiji Indian) thing to do. I pay for the FIJI water bottle and hold it as if I am holding Fiji and the history of my people in my hands, and coincidentally, realize that even the rights to FIJI water is owned by an ‘Other’; I am holding colonialism in my hand.

Indentured laborers from India crossed the Kala Pani (Pacific Ocean) in the late 1800s to come to Fiji. They called themselves girmitiyas, derived from the English word ‘agreement,’ which referred to the labor contract, while the British called them ‘coolies.’ The girmitiyas were supposed to simply serve as a working population, but by 1970, not only was Fiji independent of British rule, but the now free descendants of the girmitiyas were a majority population. However, as the 1900s came to a close, many more Indians (more properly referred to as Indo-Fijians) once again crossed the Kala Pani to seek refuge due to ethnic tensions at home.

I drink every drop of the water in the tiny bottle. My thirst quenched, my throat feels better. But my eyes water up.

Real tears aren’t the ones that flow easily. They are the unshed ones hiding behind hooded eyelids, stinging with permanence. And my heart cries.

What Do Google Users Know About Fiji and Fijians?

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | 2 Comments

Searching Google for Fiji? Try stopping for answers here.

Where do Fijians Come From?

Fiji

I am sure the question above is asked by Americans the most. Where do Americans come from? Fijians come from the South Pacific Island country of Fiji. Duh. Now don’t ask where the South Pacific is on the map.

Why is Fiji water so good or so bad?

Why is Fiji

I’ll pick so bad. Where do we start? A sizable population of Fijians cannot access safe drinking water while the rest of the world is having the ‘drop of water untouched by civilization.’ Fiji Water is actually not owned by Fiji, pays no taxes to the military regime, and the people of Fiji do not benefit from the corporation in our country. Moreover, the American corporation has trademarked the brand name FIJI–the name of a nation-state–without paying anything to the Fijian government. How do you get away with trademarking the name of a country? Lets not get started on the carbon footprint.

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Getting Over Sex Tabboo Critical to HIV+ Prevention

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | Leave a comment

It’s World AIDs Day and nothing hampers the prevention of HIV and AIDS more than ignorance and tabboo.

Sex is still a taboo subject in most Indian and Fijian communities.

In India, over 2.3 million adults live with HIV. Even a liberal Bollywood has been slow to push the envelope with no real commercial films on the subject though a recent film Kaminey did contain an AIDS awareness song and Aamir Khan is thinking about making one next year.

As for Fiji, given the ultra religious climate and condemnation of everything from abortion to pre-marital, HIV and AIDS education poses a real challenge. President Nailatikau, for all his faults, at least realizes the outdated and foolish nature of preaching abstinence. Whether or not the faith-based and religious leaders follow his advice is another matter.

AIDS is not just a gay male problem. Women’s empowerment and sex education are key preventative measures that cannot come faster for societies faced with a growing number of HIV+ cases. And big pharmaceutical companies won’t distribute vaccines or medications to people in need anytime soon. We are left to fend for ourselves.

Have You Seen This Movie?

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | Leave a comment

It’s Pirate of the Fiji Islands, the third sequel. The first two starred Sitiveni Rabuka but he was dethroned by George Speight for the third movie, which really crashed and burned at the box office. Despite the apparent failure of the brand, the producers have brought it back with a new face hoping against hope for a hit this time.

Feel free to use Fiji Freedom Bloggers.

Interview on Pacific Beat – Radio Australia

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | 2 Comments

I finally broke my silence and spoke out in the media against the repressive Fijian regime. And now I probably cannot come back home. Who would want to go back to Fiji in this state?

People are not too happy, but as an academic, I do need to stand up and make a statement against this. In Germany, the intellectuals did not speak till it was too late. This poem penned by Pastor Martin Niemöller was targeted at German intellectuals during Hitler’s rise to power and is apt for what is happening in Fiji:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Look at it this way: First they came for the ‘racists’ like Qarase. Now he is called a ‘terrorist’–a conveniently borrowed term from the Western world, which uses it sparingly to label and target dissidents. Then they came for the judiciary. Then they went after the media, bloggers and journalists. Finally, now the target is academics. Who is next? Is there any freedom of speech left in my beautiful country? The government-controlled media did not even publish anything about this latest atrocity.

Everyone has to speak up. No one is free when some are oppressed.

There is one thing that I do need to clarify. I oppose a hard diplomatic stance to Fiji. Sanctions or encouraging military invasion in Fiji from the ANZ South Pacific hegemony only makes the regime turn inwards and become more oppressive, making the path to reforms increasingly difficult.

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Are the Foreign Fijian Students Going Back Home?

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They raided the law society in Fiji, sacked the judiciary, put journalists in jail, punched and deported academics. I have a BA in Political Science, an MA in International Relations, currently a law school candidate and enthusiastic blogger. What am I supposed to do when I go back? Can I go back?

We go to foreign countries (in this case, dragged), have our accents ridiculed, adjust to different cultures, customs and ways of life while still yearning to come back home. Many of us see no reason why Fiji cannot be a thriving country instead of the pariah state it is turning into.

But what incentive do we have to come back to Fiji when our own are being detained, interrogated and deported?

The last Fijian student I spoke to was trying to get into a nursing program so that she could get a visa and adjust her status to live in the United States instead of going back. My own sister (MS in Engineering) married and became an American citizen. None of them have gone back to Fiji lately.

After getting citizenship here, it costs $3000 per person to reinstate the Fijian residency. What’s the incentive Bainimarama? Your criminal activities and infringement on basic human rights and liberties? Is that how you will treat your educated Fijians when they decide to give up their privileges to come back and serve Fiji? There is no reverse colonial effort here. We simply want to be proud of Fiji instead of hanging our heads in shame each time you do something utterly ridiculous.

Technology is the great equalizer. The illegal military regime can ban the press and throw out academics. What is it going to do about online media and blogs? Are you going to ban the Internet too and start hunting down bloggers in other countries?

And yet, after everything that the illegal regime has done, some people still hope and think that Bainimarama is the best thing for Fiji. Really? People in Germany also thought that Adolf Hitler was their only hope until it was too late. For people to sanction this behavior under the guise of ‘refuting colonial intentions’ is uneducated and ill-advised. Wake up! You always have another option. Another Fiji is possible. You don’t need the likes of Qarase and Bainimarama to lead you into the future.

My Email to PM Bainimarama

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | 4 Comments

Dear Illegal PM of my country,

I hope this email gets to you or gets published in a medium that can reach you. Unfortunately, you seem to have isolated yourself from the press instead of using it to gain leverage over your opposition.

I supported your coup in 2006 because I really did believe that you did the right thing by getting rid of the racist and homophobic Qarase.  But what you have done since then has been atrocious: cracking down on the media, detaining and deporting journalists, breaking diplomatic ties with countries and acting like ‘the law.’ Deporting Dr. Brij Lal is the last straw.

How do you expect your ‘best and brightest’ academics, journalists, solicitors and entrepreneurs to come back home and contribute to Fiji when you keep infringing on freedom of speech by throwing us in jail and deporting us anytime we cast doubt on your (false) promises?


How do you expect us to put our minds together and work on pressing issues of concern to Fijian society when you censor and eliminate our voices?

This goes beyond a diplomatic attack on our colonial cousins in Australia. Dr. Brij Lal is an exemplary Indian scholar on the Girmit and Indenture system with profound knowledge Fijian history and the current political situation in Fiji. In fact, he is probably one of the minds to tap in order to lead the country. And now I really hope Dr. Lal publishes a bunch of work against your illegal regime.

I love Fiji. But your military regime saddens and shames me,

-Prerna

Law School Candidate
Masters in International Relations
Blogger | Change.org

Coupster Bainimarama Expels Leading Academic From Fiji

Posted on by Prerna in Fiji Coup Coverage | 3 Comments

Now illegal Prime Minister of Fiji, Voreqe ‘Coupster’ Bainimarama has totally pissed me off with his detention expulsion of leading academic Dr. Brij Lal from the Fiji Islands.

An Australian academic of Indo-Fijian descent, Brij Lal was detained by the military in Suva yesterday and given 24 hours to leave the country. He had recently spoken out against the regime, saying he was doubtful that democracy would be restored in 2014. The U.S. says it deplores this action, even though Obama was congratulating Fiji on democratic rule just a month ago. Make up your mind America.

Bainimarama, how do you expect your ‘best and brightest’ academics, journalists, solicitors and entrepreneurs to come back home when you keep infringing on freedom of speech by throwing us in jail and deporting us anytime we cast doubt on your (false) promises?

As a wanna-be politician, have you ever heard the phrase “keep your friends close, your enemies closer?”

What are you telling your bright Fijian students studying at foreign universities, hoping and dreaming to serve Fiji one day, when you silence the voice of a leading Fijian academic?

This goes beyond a diplomatic attack on our colonial cousins in Australia. Dr. Brij Lal is an exemplary Indian scholar on the Girmit and Indenture system with profound knowledge Fijian history and the current political situation in Fiji. In fact, he is probably one of the minds to tap in order to lead the country. And now I really hope Dr. Lal publishes a bunch of work against your illegal regime.

Dumb move Coupster.

Fiji Falls On the Press Freedom Index

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The latest press freedom index rankings released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has Fiji plunging 73 places to 152 after a crackdown on the media by Fijian dictator Frank Bainimarama.

No criticism whatsoever is allowed of Commodore Bainimarama or the military regime. Under Section 16 (1) of the Emergency Regulations (titled “Control of Broadcast and Publications”), if the Permanent Secretary for Information (Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni) “has reason to believe that any broadcast or publication may give rise to disorder … or promote disaffection or public alarm, or undermine the Government” then he “may, by order, prohibit such broadcast or publication”.

As a consequence of this policy, Baimarama moved soldiers into newsrooms for weeks to censor stories. Foreign journalists were deported, including Rex Gardner, publisher of The Fiji Times. A Fiji One TV reporter, Edwin Nand was thrown into jail for reportedly transmitting information overseas. Recently, a Mother Jones reporter doing an investigative piece on Fiji Water was kidnapped, questioned and almost raped.

When the Permanent Secretary of Information was asked whether censorship regulations of Fiji media would be relaxed, he replied that if it was up to him, it would be kept in place for another 5 years.