Rowan Callick, Asia-Pacific editor | August 22, 2009
Article from: The Australian
A METHODIST national choir competition planned in Fiji today has been cancelled by the military-installed government as potentially subversive.
The new order is remaking Fiji in a manner unimagined even after previous coups. The country’s militarisation is reaching deep into every institution.
The Great Council of Chiefs, the courts and the parliament, core bodies that formerly commanded respect and underpinned Fiji society, have been effectively dismembered, with senior army officers running the remnants.
Even the Methodist Church, formerly viewed as sacrosanct and the church that almost every ethnic Fijian was by default born into, is under siege, with a government-ordained New Methodist Church established as its rival.
Last month the military government banned the Methodist Church’s conference, held annually for about 160 years, claiming it would fuel insurrection.
Then it arrested a dozen prominent church leaders, including the church’s president, the Reverend Ame Tugaue, and general secretary, the Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu.
And paramount chief Ro Teimumu Kepa was arrested for posting a letter on the internet encouraging the people of her Fijian province, Rewa, to assemble for a traditional meeting.
The Methodist ministers pleaded not guilty to participating in a church standing committee meeting in contravention of the public emergency regulations. Government permission had not been approved for the meeting. A pre-trial hearing is set for September 24 and the full trial for November 19.
They were accused of breaching martial law that the military government had introduced in April when it abrogated the constitution, sacked the judges, and said it would not hold elections until September 2014. Since April, Fiji’s media has been subject to heavy censorship, which military commander Veraqe (Frank) Bainimarama has said is shifting the focus to “the journalism of hope”.
The Methodist Church eventually agreed it would not persist with attempting to hold its conference but would continue with a combined annual solevu fundraising by pledges, which usually brings in almost $F1 million ($600,000), crucial for the church’s finances and choir competition, scheduled for today.
But at the last minute, the authorities withdrew permission for that as well, saying people with political intentions had been influential in planning the choir competition.
The military government’s secretary for information, Lieutenant-Colonel Neumi Leweni, said the authorities were asking the church to concentrate on the spiritual enhancement of its members “instead of promoting the ambitions of a few politically minded individuals”.
By contrast, the authorities have granted approval for the New Methodist Church, a rival institution established recently by former Air Pacific employee Atu Vulaono, to hold a crusade at the national sports stadium, which holds up to 20,000 people.
The evangelistic police commissioner Esala Teleni, a former naval commodore, is Pastor Vulaono’s brother.