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JAMAICA | Malahoo Forte uncomfortable with plans to legalise Obeah

Featured Jamaica's Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte opposes the legalization of Obeah Jamaica's Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte opposes the legalization of Obeah
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday June 7, 2019 – While Justice Minister Delroy Chuck wants to outlaw the practice of Obeah which was made illegal by slave masters and placed on the books in 1898, Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte will have none of it.

Shortly after Chuck told the House of Representatives, of his intentions, Malahoo Forte, took to Twitter to make it clear she could not support the move by her colleague minister.

She tweeted that obeah has been known to be a tool of the darkest form of evil that does nothing but harm others.

On Thursday, she reiterated her Christian beliefs on RJR’s call-in programme, Hotline, where she told host Emily Shields that she was "not apologetic at all". 

Asked whether her stance could be supported by the Charter of Rights, she admitted that whatever laws and freedoms the constitution guarantees, "the State must be prepared to honour those... So, the subject matter will have to be looked at in context of the right to religion, the right to conscience."

In her tweet last Wednesday, Mrs Malahoo Forte said she felt awkward and uncomfortable about the utterances in the House of Representatives about the practice of obeah.

She argued that Parliament can be "a place of honour and banter and light moments, but when we're dealing with serious policy issues, those decisions cannot be taken on the floor of the Parliament."

The Justice Minister however has garnered support from other quarters including businessman Wayne Chen who in joining the debate tweeted: "Jamaica’s constitution guarantees 'the right to freedom of thought, conscience, belief,"…”

He described the 1898 Obeah Act as a discriminatory colonial anachronism that favours European belief systems over all others, saying it should be repealed. 

"The freedom of one is the freedom of all," he said.

Senior Lecturer at the University of the West Indies, Dr. Orville Taylor, cautions that calling for Obeah to remain illegal could call into question some practices in Christian churches under the Obeah Act.

“It is very easy for you to use that definition under the legislation to prosecute an individual who says he has a special relationship with Jesus that other people don’t have, and that he can channel Jesus. We have to be very careful as to what we do. There is a difference between things that are doctrinal, things that are scriptural and things that have to do with fundamental human rights in a society.”

Dr. Taylor believes that it is a waste of the court's time for Obeah to remain a criminal offence.

For over a hundred years, the practice was out-lawed in Jamaican as it was the exclusive preserve of slaves and their descendants who utilized the practice as a part of their indigenous religious ritual brought with them from Africa.

The discussion about the Obeah Act unfolded after lawmakers briefly diverted from a debate on the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act, which was unanimously passed to provide significantly increased fines for a range of offences on the books with paltry fines.

The Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act would have increased the fine for persons convicted of practising obeah from $100 to $1 million, but the legislation was amended to exclude the Obeah Act because of the plan to repeal it.

Questions were raised as to why this law was still on the books, as this was targeting only historically grassroots Jamaicans who were not a part of established religion, and had African cultural retention deemed to be illegal as a result of the nature of its practice.

The justice minister indicated that he has already instructed the Law Reform Department to craft another submission for him to take to Cabinet to have the 1898 Obeah Act repealed.

“I would like to bring, for us to debate here in his House, a bill for repeal of the Obeah law. It will be put in a broader concept in terms of scamming and other things,” Chuck announced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.

“There is no reason, Mr Speaker, why the Obeah Act should still remain on the statute book, and we hope to remove it in due course,” he insisted.

A Cabinet submission for the repeal of the 121-year-old Obeah Act was submitted 44 years ago in 1975, but is still somewhere gathering dust.

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Last modified onFriday, 07 June 2019 09:47
  • Countries: Jamaica

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