Fiji's military government has banned a massive annual hymn-singing contest and church conference out of fears that the crowd of some 10,000 singing Methodists could destabilize the strife-torn nation.
The government of interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama has said the island nation's Methodist Church will not be allowed to hold its annual conference, which is preceded by a massive choral contest.
A Fiji court on July 23 silenced two top Methodist Church ministers and tribal chief Ro Teimumu Kepa. They were charged with defying the Public Emergency Regulation over the church's planned conference in August.
Ro Teimumu, along with the church's president and its secretary general, were granted bail after being held in custody for two days. The three were ordered to appear in court in three weeks and forced to surrender their travel documents. The three are banned from having any meetings for three weeks, and are not allowed to be seen in public or to conduct anything that might be construed to be a meeting.
It is believed to be the first time a Fijian government has clashed so openly with the Methodist church; about one third of Fiji's almost 1 million people are Methodists.
The annual conference is usually preceded by up to 10,000 singing Fijians who gather for the yearly choir hymn-singing contest. Church officials said the government fears the conference and singing contest will lead to further political instability.
Yet sources told Ecumenical News International that between 20,000 and 50, 000 Fijian Methodists are planning to descend on the area around the national capital, Suva, to ensure the hymn singing—and the church conference—goes ahead.
"The tension is growing and there is a great deal of anger," an Australian church leader who has had regular contacts within Fiji, told ENI.
People are concerned that it will just take a clash between a couple of angry young people and the military for violence to erupt, he said.
Copyright © 2009 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Ecumenical News International also covered the unrest in Fiji.