Jamaica’s leaders should condemn the comments of a governing-party member of parliament who called for gay organisations to be outlawed and demanded life imprisonment for homosexual conduct, Human Rights Watch said in a Letter to Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

During a parliamentary debate on February 10, 2009, Ernest Smith of the Jamaica Labor Party said that “homosexual activities seem to have overtaken this country.”

He described homosexuals as “abusive, violent,” and called for tightening the “buggery” law criminalising consensual homosexual conduct to impose sentences of up to life in prison.

On February 16, Smith told a Jamaican newspaper that J-FLAG, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, “should be outlawed,” adding: “How can you legitimise an organisation that is formed for the purposes of committing criminal offenses?”

“The prime minister should unequivocally condemn public figures who call for denying people their human rights,” said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate for the Health and Human Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. “In a climate of violence where homophobia puts LGBT people’s lives at risk, spewing such hatred is inexcusable.”

Human Rights Watch said that in recent years it has documented extensive violence faced by LGBT people across Jamaica. This includes mob attacks in which gay men have been seriously wounded.

In January 2008, for example, a mob attacked four men in Mandeville, surrounding their home and demanding they leave the community because they were gay. The mob slashed the inhabitants with sticks, stones, knives, and machetes.

That attack echoed another in the same town on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, when a crowd of about 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man. The crowd broke the windows with bottles and threatened to kill the mourners.

Police were called to the scene, but refused to intervene.

Earlier that week, on April 2, 2007, a crowd in Montego Bay attacked three men alleged to be gay who were attending a carnival. Witnesses said the crowd chased the men down the street, slashed one man with knives and beat him with a manhole cover. According to local press reports, at least 30-40 people beat another man as he sought refuge in a bar, tearing his clothes from him and striking him as he bled severely from a head wound.

On February 14, 2007, a mob of at least 200 in Kingston surrounded and attacked four men, including J-FLAG’s co-chair, calling for the men to be beaten to death because they were gay. When police arrived, instead of protecting the victims, the officers verbally abused them and struck one in the face, head, and stomach.

In its letter to Prime Minister Golding, Human Rights Watch pointed to Smith’s call to ban an LGBT group as evidence of the dangerous effects of so-called “sodomy” laws like Jamaica’s, a legacy of British colonial rule, on democratic freedoms.

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