Fiji disowns Islamic State recruiter, upsetting Australia’s bid to strip him of citizenship
- Canberra believed Melbourne-born Neil Prakash was a dual national, but Fiji says they have no record of him ever applying for citizenship
- Under Australian law, the government cannot revoke citizenship if it would leave the affected person stateless
Australia’s attempt to strip citizenship from an alleged recruiter for Islamic State has been thrown into doubt after Fiji reportedly said he was not one of its citizens.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said on Saturday that the country was much safer after the government revoked Neil Prakash’s Australian citizenship.
Canberra believes Prakash – who is wanted over an alleged plot to behead a Melbourne police officer – is a dual national because his father was Fijian.
A person with such dual status can be stripped of their Australian citizenship if they engage in terrorism-related conduct. Islamic State was declared a terrorist organisation in 2016 for this purpose.
However, the government cannot revoke single Australian citizenship as that would leave a person stateless.
Fiji’s Immigration Department director Nemani Vuniwaqa said Prakash was not one of its citizens, the Fiji Sun newspaper reported on Tuesday. “Neil Prakash has not been or is a Fijian citizen. He was born in Australia and has acquired Australian citizenship since birth,” he was quoted as saying. “The department has searched the immigration system and confirms that he has not entered the country nor applied for citizenship since birth.”
If Prakash does not hold dual status, the way could be opened for a legal challenge against the Australian government as he may be legally entitled to retain his citizenship.
The Home Affairs Department on Tuesday was unable to officially confirm whether Prakash was a Fijian citizen.
“A person may only lose their Australian citizenship under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007 if they are a national or citizen of a country other than Australia,” said a departmental representative.
“Australia is committed to upholding our international legal obligations, including our obligation not to render a person stateless.”
Prakash has been in Turkey on trial for charges relating to being a member of Islamic State since being detained there in October 2016 after leaving territory controlled by the terrorist group.
Canberra is seeking his extradition pending the outcome of his trial and any jail term he serves in Turkey. If later convicted in Australia, he would also serve time there.