J'can pastor, three worshippers charged in Antigua over violation of public gathering restriction

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J'can pastor, three worshippers charged in Antigua over violation of public gathering restriction

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

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ST JOHN'S, Antigua (CMC) —The Jamaican pastor of the New Testament Church of God in Antigua, Uriah Taylor, and three other members of the church are to return to court on May 5 after they were granted bail on charges arising from their failure to comply with public health regulations banning gatherings in excess of 25 people.

Taylor and Alston Stoner, who had pleaded guilty to battery on the police, obstruction and resisting arrest on Monday, were due to have been sentenced on Tuesday, but when the matter was called, two other members of the church, Eric Rattary and Jennifer Kenton admitted to obstructing a police constable during the incident at the church on Sunday when officers attempted to disperse the congregation for failure to comply with the 25-person restriction.

Their attorney, Sherfield Bowen, told Magistrate, Ngaio Emanuel-Edwards, that he would be making a submission on behalf of his clients, challenging the legality of their charges and the social distancing regulations under the Public Health Act.

Bowen was asked to tender his submission by April 14 after which the prosecution will be given until April 24 to respond. The quartet will then return to court on May 5 for the magistrate's decision.

The magistrate then provided bail to the four accused with the 61-year-old Kenton, a Jamaican who was visiting the island for a funeral, released on EC$3,000 (One EC dollar=US$0.37 cents) with an EC$1,500 cash component. She was also required to have two local sureties and must also report to St John's Police Station three days a week as well as surrender her passport.

Rattary, 41, a barber, was given EC$2,000 with an EC$1,000 cash component. He too must be accompanied by two sureties and must report to the police three days a week as well as surrender both his Antiguan and Jamaican passports.

The 64-year-old pastor, who has been in Antigua for more than 20 years, was granted EC$4,000 with a cash component of EC$2,000 and report to police three times a week. He was also asked to surrender his passport.

Stoner was also released on EC$3,000 bail, and was ordered to pay EC$1,500 forthwith and have two Antiguan sureties. The 33-year-old Jamaican also asked to hand over his passport and work permit over to the court and report to the police three times a week.

Meanwhile, in a letter from the New Testament Church of God Antigua District, Administrative Bishop Derrick Benta apologised to those in authority as well as the residents of Antigua and Barbuda for the “unfortunate event that took place at the Bolans New Testament Church of God on Sunday, March 29, 2020.

“As our islands and the globe continue to battle the coronavirus pandemic, we know as an organisation, that every member is held to the same standard as everyone else to follow the laws and guidelines of our country. Our failure to do so in that instance…was wrong and we are sorry. We beg our forgiveness and that of our fellow citizens in this situation,” the letter added.

The Bishop pledged to “continue to encourage and hold our members and supporters to the very high standards of Antigua and Barbuda”.

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