There is growing concern over religious freedom in Fiji following news that the country’s government has forced the Methodist Church to cancel its annual conference.
Methodists in Britain say they are praying for the people of Fiji after Methodists of the Pacific nation were forced to cancel their annual meeting, which was due to begin on Tuesday 23 August.
Earlier this month, the Fijian interim Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama lifted the ban prohibiting Methodists in Fiji from holding their annual conference until 2014, on the condition that business would take place over no more than three days. The revocation was warmly welcomed by the World Methodist Council meeting in Durban at the time.
This week however, Methodists around the world learnt that the interim government had withdrawn permission for the conference because of charges pending against the President and General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji.
Michael King, World Church Relationships Team Leader for the Methodist Church in Britain, said he was "concerned and very disappointed by what’s happened".
"It seemed as though the situation had eased and relationships had improved," said King, "This is a massive setback in the relationship between the Church and state in Fiji. If the conference had been allowed to go ahead, there would have been a normal and constitutional change in Church leadership and a sense of returning to normality".
Members of the Fiji Methodist Church Standing Committee were charged with attending an unauthorised meeting held in April 2009 and were held for questioning by police in July that year.
In September last year, the Fijian Government dropped most of the charges against leaders of the Methodist Church in Fiji – a development that was welcomed by Methodists and human rights campaigners internationally.
The Methodist Church in Britain is calling for prayer, particularly for Methodist Church leaders in Fiji as well as for the country’s interim Prime Minister. The Methodist Church in Britain remembers Fiji on the 25th day of each month in its Prayer Handbook.
British Methodists have published the prayer for Fiji that they are praying today (25 August). It declares: "We give thanks for the diversity of people in Fiji and pray that they may live together in unity. We give thanks for the Methodist Church of Fiji and Rotuma and pray that it can continue to bring a message of hope and spiritual transformation."
Michael King added, "We are praying for the Church in Fiji and for the nation, and we continue to watch developments with concern".