September 7, 2011
WEA-RLC condemns the order of Fiji’s military-led government to cancel the Methodist Church’s annual conference and ban all church activities except Sunday worship.
The Fijian regime ordered the Methodist Church to cancel its annual conference, for the third consecutive year, last month. The authorities issued the order at the last minute when around 1,000 delegates had arrived in Suva. This is despite the church having obtained permission from competent authorities to organize their in-house meeting.
The government also issued a directive to the Methodist Church through the office of the Director of Operations of Fiji Police Force on August 26, stating that all church bazaars, fundraising, rallies, camping, open air meetings, and sports days should be stopped with immediate effect. The normal church service is the only gathering that has been approved to be held, it said, warning that the order was for strict compliance and close monitoring.
This amounts to unjustifiable interference in the religious affairs of a community, undue and unlawful restriction on the religious freedom of the Methodist Church to carry out activities that do not violate any of the country’s laws, and a shameful show of arbitrary powers, Godfrey Yogarajah, WEA-RLC’s Executive Director, said.
The Methodist Church is the largest Christian denomination in Fiji, an archipelago of over 300 islands. Of the little more than 820,000 people in Fiji, about 52 percent are Christian, mostly indigenous Fijians. Hindus, mostly Indo-Fijians, with 30 percent constitute the second largest community. The Methodist Church has roughly 218,000 members.
In 2009, the country’s military accused Methodist Church President Ame Tugaue and General Secretary Tuikilakila Waqairatu of organizing an unauthorized public meeting. All religious groups in Fiji are required to register with the government, and all religious activities are closely monitored.
Fiji Landforce Commander Col. Tikoitoga insists that the two Methodist ministers resign from their positions until the investigation is over. The military rulers see the Methodist leadership as siding with the erstwhile Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua (locally known as SDL) government, which was ousted by the military in a coup in 2006 and which was mainly supported by indigenous Fijians.
Citing corruption in the government of former elected leader Laisenia Qarase, Comm. Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama of the Republic of Fiji Military Forces staged a coup against a head of the government he himself had appointed after the previous coup in 2000. He also suspended the constitution, which guaranteed religious freedom, arrested opponents and restricted press freedom.
WEA-RLC expresses solidarity with the Methodist Church in Fiji and stand with the Methodist Church of New Zealand [Fiji’s closest neighbor] and the World Methodist Council in providing all assistance to the Fijian people to ensure full religious and other civil rights, Yogarajah said.
The Methodist Church is still willing to address all legitimate concerns of the government, which must seek to resolve issues through dialogue. We also urge prayers from Christians around the world for the Church in these difficult circumstances, Yogarajah added.
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) helps individuals and groups pray for and act on religious liberty issues around the world. WEA has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.