08 June 2012

Fijian Church given permission to meet

The Methodist Church in Britain has welcomed the news that the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has been granted permission by the Government to hold its annual Conference. If the permit is not withdrawn, as it was in previous years, it will be the Church's first Conference in four years.

Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji, welcomed this move by the police commissioner and said that the Church is very appreciative. He was also glad that this early permission gives time for planning, but he reminded people that last year's Conference was cancelled just hours before it was due to start.

"This is good news for the Church and an important step towards reinstating freedom of religion and the right to meet freely in Fiji," said Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships for the Methodist Church in Britain. "We share the relief and appreciation expressed by the Methodist Church in Fiji and hope that the relationship between church and state will continue to improve."

However, concerns have been raised about the strict conditions of the permit, which include:

• the meeting should not coincide with the national Hibiscus Festival (August 17-25)
• the meeting is to be held for three days only
• the meeting is to be conducted Wednesday-Friday
• the meeting is to be held from 8am to 8pm
• the meeting is to be confined to the Centenary Church premises
• church matters only are to be discussed
• no political issues are to be discussed
• a request to extend the time frame cannot be made during the meeting

The traditional activities which surround the Conference, such as the choir competition and information or sales stalls, have also been forbidden. The Commissioner of Police added ominously, "These conditions are to be acknowledged, as serious actions will be instituted if violated or contravened; hence, [they] demands [sic] your strict observance and adherence."

"Despite these strict conditions, granting permission for the Conference to meet is clearly a step forward, and we shall give thanks as well as praying for further steps as Fiji finds its way back to democracy," added Ms Elliott.

The Fijian Church was told that it could hold its annual meeting last summer, but permission was withdrawn the evening before the 2011 Conference was due to begin. At the time, the British Church spoke of it as a serious setback in the relationship between the church and state in Fiji. 

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