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Human Rights Watch: Shield gays in Jamaica from mob attacks

News release:

A homophobic mob attack in Jamaica that left one man severely injured and another missing and feared dead shows yet again that authorities must take urgent action against violence and hatred, Human Rights Watch said Feb. 1. This incident is the latest in a string of homophobic mob violence over the last year, including an attack on mourners in a church.

“Roving mobs attacking innocent people and staining the streets with blood should shame the nation’s leaders,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “Gays and lesbians in Jamaica face violence at home, in public, even in a house of worship, and official silence encourages the spread of hate.” 

On the evening of January 29, a group of men approached a house where four males lived in the central Jamaican town of Mandeville, and demanded that they leave the community because they were gay, according to human rights defenders who spoke with the victims. Later that evening, a mob returned and surrounded the house. The four men inside called the police when they saw the crowd gathering; the mob started to attack the house, shouting and throwing bottles. Those in the house called police again and were told that the police were on the way. Approximately half an hour later, 15-20 men broke down the door and began beating and slashing the inhabitants. 

Human rights defenders who spoke to the victims also reported that police arrived half an hour after the mob had broken into the house – 90 minutes after the men first called for help. One of the victims managed to flee with the mob pursuing. A Jamaican newspaper reported that blood was found at the mouth of a nearby pit, suggesting he had fallen inside or may have been killed nearby. The police escorted the three other victims away from the scene; two of them were taken to the hospital. One of the men had his left ear severed, his arm broken in two places, and his spine reportedly damaged. 

The attack on these men echoes another incident in the same town on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007. Approximately 100 men gathered outside a church where 150 people were attending the funeral of a gay man. According to mourners, the crowd broke the windows with bottles and shouted, “We want no battyman [gay] funeral here. Leave or else we’re going to kill you. We don’t want no battyman buried here in Mandeville.” Several mourners inside the church called the police to request protection. After half an hour, three police officers arrived. 

But instead of protecting the mourners, police socialized with the mob, laughing along at the situation. A highway patrol car subsequently arrived, and one of the highway patrol officers reportedly told the churchgoers, “It’s full time this needs to happen. Enough of you guys.” The highway patrol officers then drove off. The remaining officers at the scene refused to intervene when the mob threatened the mourners with sticks, stones, and batons as they tried to leave the service. Only when several gay men among the mourners took knives from their cars for self-defense did police reportedly take action by firing their guns into the air. Officers stopped gay men from leaving and searched their vehicles, but did not restrain or detain members of the mob. 

“While Jamaican police have begun to reach out to gay and lesbian communities, this change hasn’t reached many police stations where protection remains an illusion,” said Rebecca Schleifer, advocate on HIV/AIDS and human rights at Human Rights Watch. “These horrifying attacks should galvanize officials to protect all Jamaicans against violence, regardless of who they are.” 

Two other mob attacks last year reinforced the fears of gay and lesbian Jamaicans. On April 2, 2007, a crowd in Montego Bay attacked three men alleged to be gay who were attending a carnival. The men took to a stage to dance during the revelry, but the mob began throwing bottles and stones at them. 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 or 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. 

In this case, police did intervene in an attempt to protect the men, but were overpowered by the mob. They were able to transport at least one victim to the hospital only after backup forces arrived more than 20 minutes later. 

On February 14, 2007, a mob in Kingston attacked four men, including the co-chair of t the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG). The men took refuge in a store in Tropical Plaza on Constant Spring Road in Kingston, while a crowd of at least 200 people gathered outside, calling for the men to be beaten to death because they were gay. The men called local police, as well as Human Rights Watch. When officers arrived, instead of protecting them, they verbally abused the victims, calling them “nasty battymen,” and struck one in the face, head, and stomach. They took the men to Halfway Tree Police Station in Kingston, but refused to take their complaints and ordered them never to return to the station. 

In 2007, Human Rights Watch wrote to then-Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and Peter Phillips, minister of national security, calling for an investigation into all the reported violence, as well as protection of witnesses from threats or reprisals. Human Rights Watch has received no response from the government to any of this correspondence.

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