21 Jul 2009

Fiji police detain four Methodist Church leaders

3:14 pm on 21 July 2009

Police in Fiji have detained four senior figures of the Methodist church for questioning.

The action is the latest step in ongoing tensions between the Methodists and the interim regime over the banning of this year's annual church conference.

Philippa Tolley has been following events:

"The church has spoken of hope the group will be released today after the General Secretary was detained last night and the others taken in this morning. For the last couple of months, the interim Prime Minister has been telling the Methodist church it won't be allowed to hold its annual gathering this year, or any other, unless it follows strict conditions, including the excluding from meetings of two former presidents and an agreement to refrain from political discussion. But the church appears to be continuing with plans to hold the annual conference which is important in raising funds for church activities. In April this year, the former Methodist President, Manasa Lasaro was taken in for questioning after he called for the restoration of democracy, and the inclusion of political issues on its conference agenda."

An expert on Fijian issues, Dr Steven Ratuva, says the detention of a group of senior figures in the Methodist Church is a ratchetting up of pressure by the interim regime.

Dr Ratuva, formerly of the University of the South Pacific, but now at Auckland University, believes this is the next step in trying to make sure the church complies:

The government is putting more and more pressure and perhaps a bit more psychological coercion on the church to make sure the church adheres to what the government wants and I think a bit of scaremongering as well is involved here. It is a way in which the government is trying to intimidate the church, but I think the church is pretty determined go ahead with the meetings.

An expert on Fijian issues, Dr Steven Ratuva