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Government in Fiji arrests Methodists


The Rev. Edward W. Paup
   

By Elliott Wright*
July 28, 2009 | NEW YORK (UMNS)

The arrests of Methodist church leaders in Fiji and the cancellation by the government of the annual church conference in the island nation are raising concerns within the international Methodist family.

"We are disturbed by the implications of the arrests and the conference cancellation for issues of human rights and freedom of religion," said the Rev. Edward W. Paup, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Paup reiterated a call to prayer for the people of Fiji issued by the Methodist Church of Britain and expressed confidence in the Methodist leaders of Fiji.

Eight top Fijian Methodist leaders were arrested on July 22 and held for two days on allegations of planning to use the Aug. 11-25 annual conference of the church for political purposes.

Other church officials were reportedly brought in over the next several days for questioning by representatives of a military government headed by Col. Frank Bainimarama, who seized power in 2006, overthrowing a constitutional government.

Those arrested and held included the Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, general secretary of the church, and two former presidents, the Rev. Manasa Lasaro and the Rev. Tomasi Kanailagi, along with Viliame Gonelevu, the church's financial secretary.

The August annual conference has been canceled, perhaps for as much as five years. The event is one of the largest yearly festivals in Fiji, attracting thousands of people to the meeting and a choir competition and hymn fest that come right before it.

One-third of Fiji's population of some 837,000 is Methodist. The church grew from British Methodist mission origins but is a mission partner of the Board of Global Ministries. The church in Fiji also has close ties with regional conferences of United Methodists on the West Coast of the United States.

The military regime began a crackdown on critics in April, and tensions with the Methodist Church have been on the rise since then. The church has complained to the United Nations about violations of human and civil rights.

Christine Elliott, who is in charge of external affairs for the Methodist Church in Britain, noted that the church’s leadership is standing up to the government.

“Colonel Bainimarama is making a strong statement about who is in power,” she said in a statement from the British church. “The Methodist Church is the largest faith group in Fiji, holds a significant amount of power among the people and has considerable influence over voters.”

*Wright is the information officer of the Board of Global Ministries.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio

Former Fiji Methodist president wants conference cancelled

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Resources

United Methodist Board of Global Ministries

British Methodist Church

Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma

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