Jamaican elections end tonight as minister says gays “threatened his life”

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Voting is set to end in Jamaica’s parliamentary elections tonight, while a government minister claims that he was threatened with his life for questioning whether the international gay community was funding the opposition.

In a televised debate last week, current Prime Minister Andrew Holness, of the Jamaican Labor Party, who has held his position for only two months, appeared alongside leader of the opposition and former Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, of the People’s National Party.

The two were asked whether they supported the statement made by the former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who stepped down earlier this year, that gays were not welcome in his cabinet.

Holness, Jamaica’s youngest-ever leader, had accepted earlier in the debate that there were minimum standards of human rights to which Jamaica must adhere, but added that Jamaican society should determine its own “civil rights”.

After saying it was his responsibility to make sure the “institutions of freedom” were in place, he answered the question of gays in his cabinet saying: “My sentiments reflect the sentiments of the country. The Prime Minister has a discretion, but that discretion cannot be exercised in a vacuum.”

Simpson-Miller said she would choose cabinet members because of “their ability to manage and to lead”.

Earlier in the debate said she wanted to protect the human rights of all Jamaicans, believing the government should protect people against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, and would “review” the laws criminalising gay sexual acts.

The 2007 election was closely run between the two parties. The JLP, under Golding, received 50.3% of the vote and 32 seats, while the PNP garnered 49.6% and 28 seats.

After a report by LGBT Asylum News on the positive statements made by Simpson-Miller, Daryl Vaz, the country’s Minister of Information and Telecommunications and member of the majority JLP, questioned whether she had received financial support from the international gay community in exchange for speaking up for gay rights.

The Jamaica Observer quotes Vaz as saying: “We would like to know if this is true; and more importantly, what commitments the PNP has made in exchange for that funding, because we know that is how it works.

“We are not happy about the opposition leader introducing the issue of homosexuality into the campaign and we are wondering how deep it goes and how much involved the international gay community is with the PNP. We have been hearing of the interest that that community has taken in our elections since her pronouncement.

“It is the first time that we have seen such strong interest from the gay community in any Jamaican election.”

Paul Canning of LGBT Asylum News told PinkNews.co.uk “This is a common tactic of anti-gay politicians the world over, most often seen in Africa.

“He asked if Simpson-Miller had made her comments in exchange for funding – the exact same ‘wedge’ tactic used against then opposition leader in Zambia, Michael Sata.”

After assuming office in September, Sata is now President of Zambia, where a 2010 survey reportedly found 2% of the population thought homosexuality was morally acceptable. He faced severe public criticism by detractors earlier this year over reports that he favoured gay rights.

Now Daryl Vaz has said the questions he raised over Simpson-Miller’s statements have resulted in death threats.

He claims to have received calls on Sunday criticising him for “fighting against” gays and threatening his life. Police confirmed to the Jamaica Observer that they were investigating.

This summer, a Swedish film crew who were visiting the country to make a film about its human rights issues claimed they were attacked by locals and harassed by police.

Jamaican LGBT rights campaigner Maurice Tomlinson said that the crew “got a first-hand look at our notorious homophobia and police excesses.”

In 2009, a British honorary consul was found dead in Jamaica with a note which called him a “batty man”, and saying “This is what will happen to ALL gays”. It was signed “Gay-Man”.