Nine Methodist Church leaders in Fiji have returned to court today (24 September) as the military regime continues to crack down on those who speak out against it.
The nine Methodists, including the Church’s President, Rev Ame Tugaue, last month pleaded not guilty to charges of breaching public emergency regulations. They were released on bail, but prohibited from attending Church meetings, preaching and leading worship.
Meanwhile, the regime led by Commodore Bainimarama has reneged on its promise of returning the country to democratic rule by 2009, claiming that this will now happen in 2014.
The Methodist Church, which includes more than a third of the population, has been outspoken in its criticisms of Bainimarama's repression.
Steve Pearce, Partnership Co-ordinator of the Methodist Church in the UK, described the Fijian regime's treatment of the Church as “intimidation”.
“We applaud the Church in Fiji for its continuing attempts at dialogue rather than confrontation” he said, “The Methodist Church remains committed to playing its necessary role in building a renewed and just society in Fiji.”
He added that “We continue to hope and pray for lines of dialogue to open and for God’s wisdom to prevail”.
The Methodist Church is required to seek government permission for any formal meeting and earlier this year was forced to cancel its annual conference. One sign of hope this week was government assent for a meeting to station ministers for the coming year.
It is also hoped that Fiji’s expulsion from the Commonwealth will lead to increased dialogue and a quicker return to democracy.
Despite the adversity, church life continues and the Church is delighted to have appointed its first ever female Divisional Superintendent, the Rev Kelera Wesele.