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SINGER MAY BE LINKED TO HOMOPHOBIC ATTACK

in JAMAICA, 20/08/2004

Amnesty confirms: Buju Banton accused of gay-bashing

Human Rights Watch (New York) interviews victims

"We can confirm that Amnesty International has received information from reputable national and international human rights organisations concerning reports that Buju Banton was involved in a homophobic attack. These reports take the form of statements that allege that on June 24 2004, six men were driven from their home and beaten by a group of armed men, and that the alleged assailants included Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie).

The reports further allege that this attack was apparently motivated by hatred of gay men: the victims reported that both before and during the attack the assailants had called the men “battymen”(homosexuals).

Amnesty International is further aware that several of the alleged victims were interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher who was in Jamaica at the time. Amnesty International has also received reports that several of the alleged victims made official reports to the Constant Spring police station on 25 June 2004.”

Excerpt from letter to Buju Banton from Susan Lee, Programme Director (Americas), Amnesty International, International Secretariat, London, issued on 19 August 2004.

Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton had issued a statement claiming the allegations that he was in any way connected with a gay-bashing attack in Kingston, Jamaica, on 24 June 2004, are “completely untrue and wholly unfounded”.

The Amnesty letter is in response to Banton’s denials, which were backed by Donovan Germaine of Penthouse Productions, Banton’s production company. They cited the fact that Jamaican Police have not acted against Banton as evidence that he is unconnected with the anti-gay attack. However, Jamaican human rights groups point out that the Jamaican Police are notoriously indifferent to violence against lesbian and gay people. Because homosexuality is still a serious crime in Jamaica, the police feel no obligation to protect the victims of homophobic violence or to arrest their assailants.

As one gay Jamaican man, who fled to the UK and won asylum, told Gay Times magazine: "As a gay man you’re a criminal in Jamaican law,” he says, “why would the police protect a “criminal”?”

Amnesty also repudiated Banton’s claim that the murderous incitements of his hit tune “Boom Bye Bye” - which advocates shooting gay men in the head, pouring acid over them, and setting them on fire - are a thing of the past: "To Amnesty International's knowledge, Buju Banton has never repudiated the sentiments of the song “Boom Bye Bye”. Furthermore, it is reported that Buju Banton continues to perform the song.

Most recently, a Jamaican Observer report of 9 August 2004, “Elephant Man energises Negril” stated as follows: "His [Elephant Man’s] performance was given a boost when he was joined on stage by Buju Banton, and when the latter started with Bum [sic] Bye Bye Patrons at the Wavz beach ground shouted and screamed as if endorsing the sentiments of the deejay.”

Amnesty International's letter follows below.

LETTER FROM AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL TO BUJU BANTON

Donovan Germain
Mark Myrie
Penthouse Productions
56 Slipe Road Kingston 5
JAMAICA

19 August 2004

Dear Sirs, Penthouse Productions: Official Buju Banton Response to Amnesty International Amnesty International has received a copy of the above statement, issued by Penthouse Productions on 16 August 2004.

The statement accused Amnesty International of reacting to “malicious and vindictive allegations” suggesting that Buju Banton is being sought by police in Jamaica in connection with an attack on a group of gay men.

It also denied that the Jamaican police are seeking Buju Banton for questioning in connection with the allegations. We are writing to you to clarify Amnesty International’s position with regard to these allegations.

Amnesty International has made no public statements regarding any allegations of criminal action by Buju Banton. Other human rights organisations however mistakenly credited a report from the website of the radio station RJR, headlined “Police hunt Buju Banton” (13 July 2004), as information issued by Amnesty International.

We can confirm that Amnesty International has received information from reputable national and international human rights organisations concerning reports that Buju Banton was involved in a homophobic attack. These reports take the form of statements that allege that on June 24 2004, six men were driven from their home and beaten by a group of armed men, and that the alleged assailants included Buju Banton (Mark Anthony Myrie). The reports further allege that this attack was apparently motivated by hatred of gay men: the victims reported that both before and during the attack the assailants had called the men “battymen” (homosexuals).

Amnesty International is further aware that several of the alleged victims were interviewed by a Human Rights Watch researcher who was in Jamaica at the time. Amnesty International has also received reports that several of the alleged victims made official reports to the Constant Spring police station on 25 June 2004. Amnesty International is also aware that the media has since published articles in connection with these reports, both within and outside Jamaica. Amnesty International has not spoken with the victims or the police directly.

Amnesty International has today written to the Jamaican Constabulary Force (JCF) to request clarification of the situation regarding any ongoing investigation of allegations involving or implicating Buju Banton. Your statement also stated that, “Boom bye bye” was done in 1992, and Buju has gone past that issue and has not written any songs addressing the issue since. We could understand the Amnesty position if this allegation was true or Buju has [sic] done any further song [sic] on the issue.” To Amnesty International's knowledge, Buju Banton has never repudiated the sentiments of the song “Boom Bye Bye”.

Furthermore, it is reported that Buju Banton continues to perform the song. Most recently, a Jamaican Observer report of 9 August 2004, “Elephant Man energises Negril” stated as follows: "His [Elephant Man’s] performance was given a boost when he was joined on stage by Buju Banton, and when the latter started with Bum [sic] Bye Bye Patrons at the Wavz beach ground shouted and screamed as if endorsing the sentiments of the deejay.” Amnesty International is concerned that, by continuing to perform Boom Bye Bye, Buju Banton continues to advocate the killing of homosexuals, thus appearing to demonstrate that he has not "gone past that issue" as you have claimed.

Amnesty International acknowledges the rich tradition of Jamaican music, including genres such as reggae and dancehall, in fostering social justice and human rights in Jamaica. We vigorously uphold the right of artists and others to freedom of expression; a cornerstone of our work on human rights.

This essential freedom is enshrined in Jamaica’s national constitution and in international human rights treaties that Jamaica and other countries have agreed to uphold. However, the organisation believes that the advocacy of hatred on racial, religious, national or analogous grounds - including homophobia - ("hate speech") oversteps the limits of acceptable free speech if it constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.

Yours sincerely,
Susan Lee
Programme Director – Americas
Amnesty International
International Secretariat

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For more information: Peter Tatchell (OutRage!) - +44 (0) 20 7403 1790 - peter@tatchell.freeserve.co.uk Brett Lock (OutRage!) - +44 (0) 770 843 5917 - brett@outrage.org.uk

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