Jamaicans who practice obeah and those who visit the practitioners could soon be able to do so without fear of criminal prosecution.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck on Tuesday promised to repeal the more than 100 year-old Obeah Act which made the practice illegal.
Chuck made the promise as the House of Representatives debated and approved increases in fine and penalties for various pieces of legislation as part of a broader amendment to the Law Reform (Amendment of Penalties) Act.
If it had been included in the schedule of the amended legislation, the fine for practicing obeah would have been increased from $100 to $1 million.
South St Andrew Member of Parliament, Mark Golding had earlier pointed out that it was pointless to increase the fines and penalties for practicing obeah since it was the intention of the parliament to repeal the law was enacted in June 1898.
He was supported by the Member of Parliament for Central Clarendon, Mike Henry, a parliamentarian of 40 years, who questioned why the obeah law was on the books in the first place.
“I am awaiting clarification as to whether we’re now moving something that will make obeah legal, or it remains illegal. If it is not legal I have reservations because you can’t deny me my African religious rights,” Henry stated.
“I don’t want it to be misunderstood by anyone, anywhere, so I am asking for clarification because obeah should never have been illegal at any point, anytime, anywhere,” he added.
In offering clarification, Chuck said it was the intention of the administration to examine the Obeah Act. He said since a re-examination that could lead to repeal was on the cards, it was pointless to increase the penalties.
Still pressing, Henry questioned whether the Obeah Act would be removed from the books but Chuck told him not just yet.
“We are hoping to repeal the Obeah Act, it will be taken to Cabinet shortly, a revived Cabinet submission to have it repealed, so we are removing it from the (increased) penalties at this time, Chuck said.
“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,” he added.
He said there was no reason for the archaic law to remain on the books.
Apart from the $100 fine, persons who practice obeah could be imprisoned for a period of up to 12 months at hard labour. For those who seek out the services of an obeahman, if caught, such persons could be imprisoned for up to six months.
According to the Obeah Act, ‘obeah shall be deemed to be of one and the same meaning as myalism,' which is described as a Jamaican folk religion focused on the powers of African ancestors.
On the other hand, obeah is a system of spiritual and healing practices developed among enslaved West Africans.