Fijian Church leaders appear in court

Nine Methodist Church leaders in Fiji have appeared in court,pleading not guilty to charges of breaching Public EmergencyRegulations.

The nine leaders, including the Church's President, Revd Ame Tugaueand General Secretary Revd Tuikilakila Waqairatu, appeared in courtyesterday, and have been released on bail until a full hearing onSeptember 24.

For the last three weeks the leaders have been forbidden to speak,preach or take part in meetings, making life almost impossible fora church whose spiritual life-blood is based on gathering together.The church's solicitor is in negotiation with the police and theFijian Government to relax the conditions for the next bailperiod.

Last month the Church agreed to comply with the Government'sdemands, cancelling this year's Methodist Conference andnegotiations are proceeding with the police concerning anadministrative meeting planned for August 31. Currently theGovernment insists that only ordained ministers (excluding thearrested leaders) should be allowed to attend, but the Church doesnot want to exclude lay people.

Steve Pearce, World Church Partnership Coordinator for theMethodist Church in Britain, said; "It is clear that the militarygovernment is active in the life of the courts. Where policeactions contradict court decisions, the courts are reluctant toassert themselves. Negotiation and dialogue are difficult in thesecircumstances but the Church is clear in its wish to avoidconfrontation."

Speaking to Steve this morning, the Church's Deputy GeneralSecretary, Revd Tevita Bainavanua, expressed his frustration duringa monitored phone call, saying, "We can talk about Jerusalem andGalilee but not Fiji! We are telling our people not to do anythingto worsen the situation."

The Church continues to work and worship despite this situation,which is consuming much time, energy and finance, with the prospectof a long court case ahead. Traditional choir festivals will goahead as planned, beginning August 22, although no nationalfestivals will take place.