U.S. Department of State Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 2002 - Fiji

The 1997 Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the caretaker 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 approximately 800,000 persons, according to information from the Bureau of Population in 2001. Among the 3 major religions, there are 449,482 Christians, 264,173 Hindus, and 54,323 Muslims. The largest Christian denomination is the Methodist Church, which claims 218,000 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.

Religion runs largely along ethnic lines. The population is split largely between two main ethnic groups: Indigenous Fijians who constitute approximately 51 percent; and Indo-Fijians, who constitute 44 percent. Most Indo-Fijians practice Hinduism; most indigenous Fijians follow Christianity. 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; the Muslim (Sunni) minority makes up approximately 10 percent of the Indo-Fijian community. Both the Hindu and Muslim communities have a number of active religious and cultural organizations.

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 1997 Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the present caretaker Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full 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 the Methodist Church is working to establish 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. Methodist Church authorities and allied political parties continue to work for the establishment of a Christian state. The Church has displayed strong nationalist sympathies, and a letter of support from the 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. While relations generally are cordial between the two largest religious communities, Christian and Hindu, there were two incidents of vandalism directed against Hindu places of worship, in May and June 2001. In addition, in August 2001, a Catholic church was desecrated. The Hindu religious group Sanatan indicated that it believes that the attacks against its places of worship were isolated incidents and not indicative of greater intolerance. The perpetrators of all three acts of vandalism never have been identified, and the police treated them as isolated incidents.

Civil society is heavily Christian, and the New Testament is quoted frequently in letters to newspaper editors. Christian religious sources have stated several times that their view on religious tolerance is that it is "not a matter of being Christian, but instead accepting Jesus Christ as your Savior."

Muslim religious leaders continued to press for the establishment of separate Islamic courts for their minority community; however, there were no new developments on the issue during the period covered by this report.

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.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. The law provides that the Secretary of State, with the assistance of the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, shall transmit to Congress "an Annual Report on International Religious Freedom supplementing the most recent Human Rights Reports by providing additional detailed information with respect to matters involving international religious freedom." This Annual Report includes 195 reports on countries worldwide. The 2002 Report covers the period from July 1, 2001, to June 30, 2002.

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