By John Austin
BRISBANE (BT Online/Pacific Media Watch): A "Jesus crusade" led by Fiji's police force has been compared to the rule of the Taliban.
Editor-in-chief of the Fiji Times Netani Rika addressed journalism and communications students at the University of Queensland yesterday, telling them of life under the illegal rule of interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
Rika said police converts to the fundamentalist New Methodist Church had replaced military personnel as in-house censors in newsrooms.
He said the police and the Bainimarama regime were strong backers of the new church and aimed to draw popular support away from the more independent traditional churches such as the dominant Methodist Church.
Rika said police were interpreting and enforcing Fiji's laws from an extremely fundamentalist Christian perspective.
"It's just like having the Taliban," he said.
Police officers of all beliefs and ethnic backgrounds were being pressured to join the New Methodist Church to impose strict moral codes and behaviour on police officers and increasingly the general public.
"The strategy appears to be to convert all the police then they will make everyone else Christian creating what they think will be a peaceful society where we can all just follow our great leader," Rika told students.
"They are the Jesus cops. Even the police phone answering message says "Praise the Lord. Can we help?"
The Fiji media has been widely censored since Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup.
The head of the new Methodist Church is the brother of the Police Commissioner, a close friend of Bainimarama and former Fiji Navy Commander. The Police Commissioner is regarded as the second most powerful position in Fiji.
"This regime now believes it must control more than the media to break the hold that the traditional Fijian authorities like the church, have on people's minds.
"Now they are trying to control everything, beliefs and how people behave," Rika said.
"And even more worrying is the new clampdown on reporting any stories that involve the police or the justice system.
"They just want people to think all is good, and without a free media people believe the lies."
An associate director of `Uniting World', a Uniting Church body operating in the Pacific, said he was investigating reports that preachers from Australian pentacostal churches were funding the New Methodist Church in Fiji and were sending people to preach there.
Rika said journalists in Fiji were attempting to counter the censors by continuing to report on all stories regardless of whether they were positive or negative.
"Journalists have been subjected to intimidation, threats and fire-bombing. We continue to cover all the stories we believe are important to the people, even thought they may not get published," he said.