The decision taken by the Minister of Home Affairs Clement Rohee to have the body of the late Sangeeta Persaud exhumed for an independent autopsy is indeed commendable. No doubt his objective was to arrive at some transparency in the matter and to allay the many fears and concerns raised in many quarters.
As far as I can tell I was one of the persons who expressly called and while I am sure that Minister Rohee must have taken into consideration the views of a wider cross section of individuals and organizations, I would like to offer my personal congratulations to him.
But, despite the Minister’s initiative many questions still remain to be answered, least of all the results of the second autopsy which I am sure will be made public in due course. A perusal of all the press reports will reveal that it was many days after the news of the initial “inconclusive” autopsy that the public was informed that samples were taken from Sangeeta’s stomach for further examination. Why were we not told at the same time that samples were taken for further examination? Had this information been given, it probably would not have led to the charge of a cover-up voiced by so many.
A still later report (Stabroek News and Kaieteur News April 23) claims that Sangeeta died of meningitis. According to the latter paper, “following tests carried out on body samples recently, it was confirmed that Persaud died from meningitis.” When was this test done and by whom? Obviously, the first “inconclusive” autopsy could not be the basis of the meningitis report, and the only other known autopsy was scheduled for Saturday, April 24.
Incidentally, the Guyana Chronicle of the same day in its report of Minister Rohee’s press conference makes no mention of meningitis with the Minister himself saying that he had not seen any such report.
But this is not all! I firmly believe that the involvement of the Chairman of the Ethnic Relations Commis-sion also leads to more questions than answers. Most amazingly, according to (Stabroek News April 10), the ERC Chairman felt it became necessary at that point to bring to public attention “the facts” surrounding Persaud’s death and to correct media “inaccuracies.”
Since the Chairman has not contradicted this particular report, one may assume that it is true. So my question is: By what method, mysterious or scientific, did the ERC chairman arrive at the “facts?” Facts are determined by an empirical, verifiable, and transparent process of investigation and inquiry and usually in matters of this nature an inquest is held to determine the facts, but in the absence of such an inquest, the intrigue deepens. How did the chairman arrive at his “facts?” Hopefully, not by any private and privileged epistemology!
I believe that something is gravely amiss here. Here is the Chairman of a duly constitutional national commission defending the Christian right to make converts as well as the Christian practice of exorcism.
If this is his unambiguously enunciated belief then how can he participate in any process to determine “the facts” in this case of a fellow Pentecostal pastor involved in the exorcism and committed to making converts? Where is the fairness? Do we no longer care about the age old principle of conflict of interest?
As if this was not enough, the Chairman of the ERC presents himself at the scene of the second autopsy. Who invested him with the authority to be a witness at the autopsy? Whose interest was he overseeing? But it is not only the Chairman’s presence at the autopsy I find extremely troubling. What was the pastor doing at the autopsy? By what authority was he there? And then there was the presence of the learned attorney-at-law, Mr Nigel Hughes The newspaper report does not make it clear whose interest he was representing.
But what was even more shocking in my layman’s opinion was the presence at the autopsy of Dr Neehaul Singh. It was the “inconclusive” result of his autopsy that necessitated a second being undertaken. Should he have been there? What does the presence of the pastor in question, the Chairman of the ERC with his mysterious ways of arriving at the “facts’ and his partiality to the practice of exorcism and conversion, and that of Dr Neehaul Singh do to the impartiality and independence of the autopsy.
After all this was Minister Rohee’s objective, an independent autopsy.
The questions and inconsistencies in this case are legion.
But before I delve into more of them, it is time to have the opinions of some of our legal minds. But let me end with one question: Should the practice of exorcism be subjected to public scrutiny and should it be above the law of the land simply because it happens to be the religious beliefs of some people?