The military government in Fiji has banned all Methodist Church meetings except for Sunday worship in an unprecedented crackdown on religious freedom.
It is the harshest measure so far in the Fijian regime's long-running campaign of repression and censorship against the country's Methodists, who have spoken out against the government.
Having withdrawn the permit for the Church’s annual Conference the evening before the event was due to start, the interim government has now notified the Church in a letter from the Fiji Military Council that all other meetings of the Methodist Church are forbidden.
This includes house groups, women’s prayer fellowship, choir practice, mid-week communion and youth fellowship, as well as the Church’s governance meetings. All Methodist ministers are also forbidden from leaving the country for any meeting.
The Church is responding with prayer and fasting. A planned press conference had to be cancelled last week because of the fear of further arrests. The Methodist Church is the largest faith group in Fiji and the only group to receive this treatment by the government.
“We are gravely concerned about how this situation is developing,” said Michael King, World Church Relationships Team Leader for the Methodist Church in Britain, “Our brothers and sisters in Fiji are asking us to keep them in our prayers and to tell the world their story".
He added, "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."
Fiji is the subject of sanctions by Australia, New Zealand, the US and the EU 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.
There are signs of unrest in the capital Suva, with attacks on police posts and related graffiti, which is fuelling anxiety about the nation’s stability. Sending criticisms of the regime to or from abroad is now being treated as a criminal act.
The Methodist Church has urged people to pray for the people of Fiji and "for the Methodist Church in Fiji, that it may exercise its right to freedom of religion and be allowed to play its part in developing a healthy and just society for all people".