Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 13:57 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 13:57 | SYDNEY

Fiji: The police state turns nasty


Jenny Hayward-Jones


22 July 2009 17:30

Yesterday's arrests in Fiji of the leadership of the Methodist Church and a female paramount chief are a dramatic development in Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama’s quest to increase his control over the country. Whether they will be the trigger for the ultimate demise of his leadership, or civil unrest, or whether they are a sign of the permanent entrenchment of a military dictatorship remains to be seen. 

The arrests are a clear threat to two key pillars of Fiji society – the Methodist Church and the Chiefly System – and represent the most significant provocation from Bainimarama to civil society in Fiji since the 2006 coup. It’s a risky and desperate move from a leader who claims to understand the 'Pacific Way'.

The General Secretary of the Methodist Church, Rev. Tuikilakila Waqairatu, past presidents of the Church, Rev. Tomasi Kanailagi and Rev. Manasa Lasaro, Church accountant, Mr. Viliame Gonelevu and the female Chief of the Rewa Province, Ro Teimumu Kepa, were arrested between 11pm and midnight on 21 July and taken to a military facility for interrogation. The arrests were made following police questioning of senior Methodist church figures earlier in the day.

The interim Government has been locked in a stoush with the Methodist Church over the Church’s plans to hold its annual two-week conference in late August in Rewa Province. Commodore Bainimarama has refused to issue a permit for this conference on the basis that the inclusion of political issues on the agenda was a breach of the interim Government’s Public Emergency Regulation. He has demanded the sacking from Church leadership positions of former Church presidents, Kanailagi and Lasaro. The Church has refused to back down and has secured the support of Rewa Province paramount Chief Ro Teimumu Kepa to host the conference as planned.

The interim Government has defended its position in respect of the Church and suggested Chief Ro Teimumu Kepa had been arrested because her support for the Methodist conference was a 'form of incitement.'

The lack of public protest in Fiji since the 2006 coup is usually attributed to the influence of churches and chiefs, who have been reluctant to endorse any protest that might end in violence. But these arrests may prove to be the one decision Fiji society cannot accept from its military leader.

The Methodist Church is by far Fiji’s biggest Christian denomination in a country in which 99 per cent of the population profess a religion. Methodists make up approximately 34 per cent of Fiji’s population and the Church has been a critic of Bainimarama’s 2006 coup and the interim Government’s rule.

Photo by Flickr user *One*, used under a Creative Commons license.