Fijian Church leaders return to court

Today, nine Methodist Church leaders have returned to court inorder to negotiate their bail conditions and seek greater religiousfreedom for their Church.

The leaders, including the Church's President, Revd Ame Tugaue andGeneral Secretary Revd Tuikilakila Waqairatu, appeared in courtlast month, pleading not guilty to charges of breaching publicemergency regulations. They were released on bail, but prohibitedfrom attending Church meetings, preaching or leading worship.

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

Steve Pearce, Partnership Coordinator, said; 'Our communicationswith the Church in Fiji are being monitored and all Churchactivities and meetings are being scrutinised by governmentofficials. This is clearly intimidatory and we applaud thecommitment of the Church in Fiji for its continuing attempts atdialogue rather than confrontation. The Methodist Church is theonly faith group in Fiji to receive this treatment, but it remainscommitted to playing its necessary role in building a renewed andjust society in Fiji."

Earlier this year the Church was forced to cancel its annualConference, at which the President would have been elected and newministers ordained. The Church has to seek government permissionfor any formal meeting, one sign of hope this week was governmentassent for a meeting to station ministers for the comingyear.

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

Despite the adversity, Church life continues and the Church isdelighted to have appointed its first ever female DivisionalSuperintendent, the Revd Kelera Wesele.