Fiji judge calls for NZ to drop travel ban

Concerns over the way New Zealand officials handled a visa application for a Fijian judge with a sick child have led to a diplomatic tiff in Suva.

Fiji's chief justice Anthony Gates at a press conference today called on New Zealand and Australia to abandon travel restrictions on the country's judiciary.

When Fijian judge Angela Wati sought a New Zealand medical visa for a sick child it was granted grudgingly, and only after the media became involved, Justice Gates said.

But the New Zealand High Commission in Suva issued its own statement, saying an application for a visa on medical grounds by Justice Wati was not rejected.

The High Commission said the Wati family's passports were returned to the judge with visas attached, the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation reported.

The New Zealand diplomats rejected local media reports that the visa application was rejected on October 15.

There have been travel bans on people associated with the military government which has run Fiji since the 2006 coup .

The High Commission said New Zealand had consistently granted exemptions for Fiji citizens on medical, humanitarian, or compassionate grounds.

Justice Gates - who holds joint British and Australian citizenship - said Sri Lankan judges appointed to Fijian posts had been phoned by the Australian High Commission and warned they would not be allowed into Australia for medical treatment.

Justice Gates said he had to "stand up against such interference".

He urged Australia and New Zealand to stop imposing travel restrictions on Fijian judges, and called on judges in Australia and New Zealand to speak to their parliamentary colleagues about what he called the interference of their governments.

- NZPA

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