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Diplomacy in Action

Fiji


International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. In February 2001, the Court of Appeals found that the Constitution remains in force, despite its purported abrogation by insurgent forces in mid-2000.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country consists of more than 300 islands, 100 of which are inhabited; most of the population is concentrated on the main island of Viti Levu. The country's total area is approximately 6,800 square miles, and its population is 825,000. 52 percent of the population is Christian, 33 percent Hindu, and 7 percent Muslim. The largest Christian denomination is the Methodist Church, which claims 219,000 members. Other Protestant denominations and the Roman Catholic Church also have significant followings. The Methodist Church is supported by the majority of the country's chiefs and remains influential in the ethnic Fijian community, particularly in rural areas. There also are a small number of non-denominational Christian sects.

During the period covered by this report, some persons shifted their membership from the Methodist Church to other Christian denominations and Islam. Some Methodist Church members from rural areas reportedly found it difficult, due to deteriorating economic circumstances, to contribute the tithes expected of them; others reportedly changed affiliations because they did not support the nationalist political agenda associated with the Methodist Church.

Religion runs largely along ethnic lines. Most indigenous Fijians, who constitute approximately 54 percent of the population, follow Christianity; most Indo-Fijians, who constitute approximately 40 percent of the population, practice Hinduism or Islam. However, a significant minority of Indo-Fijians are Christian. Other ethnic communities include Chinese and European persons. Approximately 60 percent of the Chinese community practice Christianity and 40 percent practice Confucianism or some form of ancestor worship. The European community is predominantly Christian.

The Hindu faith is predominant within the Indo-Fijian community, while the Muslim (Sunni) minority makes up approximately 20 percent of the Indo-Fijian community. Both the Hindu and Muslim communities have a number of active religious and cultural organizations. The Fiji Muslim League is also actively pursuing the conversion of indigenous Fijians from Christianity to Islam and has attained some success in this initiative.

There are numerous Christian missionary organizations that are nationally and regionally active in social welfare, health, and education. Many major Christian denominations, notably the Methodist Church, have missionaries in the country; they operate numerous religious schools, including colleges, which are not subsidized by the Government.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the present Government generally respects this right in practice and does not tolerate its abuse. Citizens have the right, either individually or collectively, both in public and private, to manifest their religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, or teaching. There is no state religion, although elements of the Methodist Church have advocated the establishment of a Christian state. Religious groups are not required to register. The Government does not restrict foreign clergy and missionary activity, or other typical activities of religious organizations.

Major observances of all three major religions are celebrated as national holidays, including Christmas, Easter, Diwali, and Mohammed's birthday. The Government partly sponsors an annual ecumenical prayer festival.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion; however, the role of religion continues to be a political issue. Some Methodist Church authorities and allied political groups continued to advocate the establishment of a Christian state, but the new leadership of the Methodist Church moderated somewhat the expression of strong nationalist sympathies endorsed by the previous leadership. A letter of support from the then head of the Methodist Church, Reverend Tomasi Kanilagi, to George Speight, the leader of the May 19, 2000, armed takeover of Parliament, was made public in the press in June 2001. In the letter, Reverend Kanilagi publicly expressed his intention to use the Methodist Church as a forum under which to unite all ethnic Fijian political parties for the elections scheduled for August 2001. The meetings held for this purpose were not subjected to the same stringent permit restrictions as other political gatherings. Those parties dominated by Indo-Fijians do not support the establishment of a Christian state and insist that church and state should remain separate.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. In May unidentified persons burglarized a mosque in the western part of the country. As of the end of the period covered by this report, no arrests had been made; however, the burglary was viewed as an isolated incident and widely condemned. In addition, there were two incidents of vandalism or burglary directed against Hindu places of worship in May and June 2001, and a Catholic church was desecrated in August 2001. The Hindu religious group Sanatan indicated that it believes the attacks against its places of worship also were isolated incidents and not indicative of greater intolerance. The perpetrators of these acts of vandalism never were identified.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights. The Embassy has disseminated public diplomacy materials related to political and religious freedom across a wide spectrum of society. The Embassy continued to make religious freedom an important part of its effort to promote democracy and human rights.



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