Fiji government gives Methodist church limited permission to meet
The Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma has been granted permission by the Government to hold its annual conference, but the church expressed concerns about the strict conditions of the permit.
The Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Fiji, welcomed this move by the police commissioner, according to a news release from the Methodist Church in Britain, which said it welcomed these developments.
If the permit is not withdrawn, as it was in previous years, it will be the church’s first conference in four years, the news release said.
Waqairatu said the church is very appreciative and he is glad the early permission gives time for planning, but he recalled that last year’s conference scheduled for August was cancelled just hours before it was due to start. Methodist church leaders have opposed the military government, which has suspended a number of civil liberties.
“This is good news for the Church and an important step towards reinstating freedom of religion and the right to meet freely in Fiji,” said Christine Elliott, Secretary for External Relationships for the Methodist Church in Britain.
“We share the relief and appreciation expressed by the Methodist Church in Fiji and hope that the relationship between church and state will continue to improve.”
However, concerns have been raised about the strict conditions of the permit. It said the meeting should not coincide with the national Hibiscus Festival (August 17-25), the meeting is to be held for three days only, it is to be conducted Wednesday-Friday, it is to be held from 8 am to 8 pm and be confined to the Centenary Church premises, church matters only are to be discussed, no political issues are to be discussed and a request to extend the time frame cannot be made during the meeting.
The traditional activities which surround the conference, such as the choir competition and information or sales stalls, have also been forbidden.
The Commissioner of Police added that, “These conditions are to be acknowledged, as serious actions will be instituted if violated or contravened; hence, [they] demands [sic] your strict observance and adherence.”
“Despite these strict conditions, granting permission for the conference to meet is clearly a step forward, and we shall give thanks as well as praying for further steps as Fiji finds its way back to democracy,” added Elliott.
The Methodist Church is the largest Christian denomination in Fiji, with 36.2 per cent of the total population.