Concerns for Fijian Methodists escalate

There is growing concern for the religious freedom of Methodistsin Fiji following news that the country's Government has forced theChurch to cancel its annual Conference.

Methodists in Britain are praying for the people of Fiji afterMethodists of the Pacific nation were forced to cancel their annualmeeting, which was due to begin on Tuesday 23 August. The GeneralSecretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji is set to hold a pressconference tomorrow morning in Suva to speak about thesituation.

Earlier this month the Fijian Interim Prime Minister CommodoreVoreqe Bainimarama lifted the ban prohibiting Methodists in Fijifrom holding their annual Conference until 2014, on the conditionthat business would take place over no more than three days. Therevocation was warmly welcomed by the World Methodist Councilmeeting in Durban at the time. This week, however, Church leadersin Britain learned that the interim Government had withdrawnpermission for the Conference because of charges pending againstthe President and General Secretary of the Methodist Church inFiji.

Michael King, World Church Relationships Team Leader for theMethodist Church in Britain, said: "We are concerned and verydisappointed by what's happened because it seemed as though thesituation had eased and relationships had improved. This is amassive setback in the relationship between the Church and state inFiji. If the Conference had been allowed to go ahead, there wouldhave been a normal and constitutional change in Church leadershipand a sense of returning to normality. We are praying for theChurch in Fiji and for the nation, and we continue to watchdevelopments with concern."

Members of the Fiji Methodist Church Standing Committee werecharged with attending an unauthorized meeting held in April 2009and were held for questioning by police in July that year. InSeptember last year, the Fijian Government dropped most of thecharges against leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji - adevelopment that was welcomed by the Methodist Church inBritain.

The Methodist Church in Britain is calling for prayer, particularlyfor Methodist Church leaders the Revd Ame Tugaue (President), theRevd Tuikilakila Waqairatu (General Secretary), the Revd TevitaBanivanua (Deputy General Secretary) as well as for the country'sInterim Prime Minister, Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama.

The Methodist Church in Britain remembers Fiji on the 25th day ofeach month in its Prayer Handbook. Tomorrow Methodists will praywith these words:

We give thanks for the diversity of people in Fiji and pray thatthey may live together in unity.

We give thanks for the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and praythat it can continue to bring a message of hope and spiritualtransformation.