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March 2009

Pressure mounts on Fijian Methodists

By Paul Titus

Methodist and affiliated churches around the world are becoming increasingly concerned about the situation facing the Methodist Church of Fiji.

Fijian Methodists continue to seek dialogue with the interim government of Commodore Frank Banimarama but the authorities have increased pressure on the Church by restricting more of its activities and bringing more of its leaders before the courts.

Methodist Church of Fiji deputy general secretary Rev Tevita Banivanua has written an open letter to the World Methodist Council. In it he reports that the commissioner of police has cancelled the annual meeting of the Church’s 54 divisions (which was to be held in May) and the quarterly meeting of its 325 circuits (which was to be held this month).

Tevita says these are very important meetings in which regional bodies set their budgets and decide on candidates for ministry training.

“The reason given for this cancellation is that some lay people and ministers of the Church are involved with the SDL party, which formed the previous government, to establish a new Christian political party. But they have presented no evidence to us, and they have not told us who the people are who are doing this.”

The restrictions on regional church gatherings follow the interim government’s ruling last that the Fijian Methodist Church is not allowed to hold its annual Conference for five years because of its involvement in politics.

Tevita says the police have now charged 19 more members of the Methodist Church’s Standing Committee with taking part in a meeting at which several banned church leaders were present. Last year nine other members of the Standing Committee, including president Rev Ame Tugaue and general secretary Rev Tuikilakila Waqairatu, were arrested for being at that meeting.

The new group of 11 ministers and eight lay people face a pre-trial hearing on March 8th, and all 28 members of the Standing Committee will face a trial on March 28th.

Tevita says Divisional superintendents and chief stewards are continuing to seek a dialogue with Frank Banimarama, and the military chaplain has told them that such a meeting will take place.

He asks Methodists and ecumenical groups around the world to pray for Fijian Methodists and for the emergency regulations to be lifted.

“We are not seeking confrontation with the government. We want to avoid violence and keep the peace so the people can recover. We just hope the situation has not gone too far already.”

In response to the situation in Fiji, last month Methodists in Britain and Ireland held a day of prayer and fasting in solidarity with Methodists in Fiji.

The British and Irish Methodist Churches urged people to abstain from food on Thursday 25 February and to consider donating the money they would have spent on it to the World Mission Fund, which will be offering long term support to the Fijian Methodist Church. At the same, they asked people to pray for the citizens, churches and government of Fiji.