21 Jul 2009

Seven senior Fiji Methodist Church leaders questioned by police

9:26 pm on 21 July 2009

The Methodist Church in Fiji says seven senior members are still being held by police for questioning.

The General Secretary of the church, the Reverend Tuikilakila Waqairatu, was taken in last night and others were detained this morning.

Earlier, the church was hoping the group would have been released this afternoon.

Those being questioned all took part in a committee meeting on Monday to discuss the tense issue of the interim regime banning the church's annual conference.

The Methodist church is the largest in Fiji and the interim regime has banned the gathering unless the church hierarchy agrees to exclude two former presidents and remove any political discussion from the agenda .

Meanwhile, an expert on Fijian issues says the detention of a senior Methodist figures reflects a ratchetting up of pressure by the interim regime.

Dr Steven 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 with the regime.

"The government is putting more and more pressure and perhaps a bit more pysocological 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 determind go ahead with the meetings."

Dr Steven Ratuva.