Fiji government expands crackdown on Methodists

August 30, 2011

New York, August 30 (ENInews)--Fiji's military government has expanded a
crackdown on the Methodist Church, banning all church meetings except for
Sunday worship and forbidding clergy from leaving the country.

Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Neumi Leweni was quoted in an
article on the Fiji Times website on 30 August as saying that Methodist leaders
will need to "seek clarification" from the government for meetings (except
worship) or foreign travel.

The restrictions came in a letter from the Fiji Military Council,
according to a 30 August news release from the Methodist Church in Britain, which
has been following closely events in the former British colony.

The order prevented Methodist members from traveling to Samoa for the
commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Pacific Council of Churches. Last
week, the government canceled for the third time the church's annual
meeting after church President Ame Tugauwe and General Secretary Tuikilakila
Waqairatu, who have been vocal in their criticisms of the military regime,
refused to step down. Since taking power in a 2006 coup, the government has
suspended the constitution, detained opponents and suppressed freedom of

"We are gravely concerned about how this situation is developing," said
Michael King, World Church Relationships Team Leader for the Methodist Church
in Britain, in a statement on 30 August. "Our brothers and sisters in Fiji
are asking us to keep them in our prayers and to tell the world their
story. We are worried for Fiji. We are not only worried about religious
freedom, but also about what the loss of other freedoms might mean for all Fijians
in this traditionally democratic island nation."

The Methodist church is the largest Christian denomination in the Pacific
island nation, representing about one-third of the population of about
850,000. It is also the largest denomination for indigenous Fijians.

Fiji is the subject of sanctions by Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and
the European Union and is also suspended from the Commonwealth and the
Pacific Islands Forum because of the government's failure to meet a deadline for
democratic elections.

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