Fijian Church leaders return to court

Today, nine Methodist Church leaders have returned to court in order to negotiate their bail conditions and seek greater religious freedom for their Church.

The leaders, including the Church's President, Revd Ame Tugaue and General Secretary Revd Tuikilakila Waqairatu, appeared in court last month, pleading not guilty to charges of breaching public emergency regulations. They were released on bail, but prohibited from attending Church meetings, preaching or leading worship.

The Church, which includes around 30% of the population, has been outspoken in its criticism of Fiji's military government, lead by Commodore Bainimarama. Bainimarama originally promised to return the country to democratic rule by April 2009, but is now saying this will not happen until 2014.

Steve Pearce, Partnership Coordinator, said; 'Our communications with the Church in Fiji are being monitored and all Church activities and meetings are being scrutinised by government officials. This is clearly intimidatory and we applaud the commitment of the Church in Fiji for its continuing attempts at dialogue rather than confrontation. The Methodist Church is the only faith group in Fiji to receive this treatment, but it remains committed to playing its necessary role in building a renewed and just society in Fiji."

Earlier this year the Church was forced to cancel its annual Conference, at which the President would have been elected and new ministers ordained. The Church has to seek government permission for any formal meeting, one sign of hope this week was government assent for a meeting to station ministers for the coming year.

But there is hope that Fiji's expulsion from the Commonwealth will lead to increased dialogue between the Church and Government, leading to a quicker return to democracy. Steve said; "We continue to hope and pray for lines of dialogue to open and for God's wisdom to prevail".

Despite the adversity, Church life continues and the Church is delighted to have appointed its first ever female Divisional Superintendent, the Revd Kelera Wesele.

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