World

This Man Is Challenging Jamaica's Ban On Homosexuality

"The laws of Jamaica that criminalize consensual sexual intimacy between men essentially render me an un-apprehended criminal," said the man who brought the new case.

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A new challenge to Jamaica's law criminalizing homosexuality was filed with the country's Supreme Court on November 27, more than a year after a man challenging the law withdrew his case citing threats against himself and his family.

The new suit is being brought by Maurice Tomlinson, a gay Jamaican attorney who received death threats after a local newspaper published a photograph of his marriage to his Canadian partner in 2011. The country's attorney general, who is named as the plaintiff, was served with notice of the suit on Tuesday. It will be formally announced at a press conference to be held in Kingston on Thursday, according to a media advisory published on the website of AIDS-Free World, an international NGO that is supporting the challenge in cooperation with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

"The laws of Jamaica that criminalize consensual sexual intimacy between men essentially render me an un-apprehended criminal," Tomlinson states in the court filings, which were shared with BuzzFeed News by a source familiar with the litigation. Criminalizing homosexuality "amounts to a direct and blatant denial of equality before the law for [Tomlinson] and other gay men in Jamaica."

Tomlinson was the lawyer for the claimant in the challenge to the provision known colloquially as the "buggery law" — put into place when the island was under British colonial rule — that was withdrawn last year. He's brought other suits related to gay rights, including an unsuccessful suit against a Jamaican television station that refused to air an anti-homophobia PSA because it could be construed as promoting illegal activity.

Tomlinson now splits his time between the home he shares with his husband in Toronto and Jamaica, he said in an interview with BuzzFeed News, though he says he follows a "security protocol" and restricts his activities when he is in the country because he is still receiving death threats. He agreed to be the claimant in this new suit after difficulty recruiting someone to replace Javed Jaghai, the man who withdrew his challenge to the buggery law last year because of safety concerns.

"I’ve certainly reached a point where I can’t imagine things getting much worse than they already are" in terms of security concerns, Tomlinson said. "The good thing is that I have the option to not be where the danger is," since he has a home in Canada.

Tomlinson's suit seeks to have the buggery law nullified in all cases of adult consensual sex, which is currently punishable by up to 10 years in prison and hard labor, as well as requiring those convicted to register as sex offenders.

No one has been convicted under the buggery code since 2005, Tomlinson said, but it has served as "a blackmailer's charter" allowing police to use the threat of arrest of gay men for extortion.

Tomlinson's court filings also argue that the law encourages the high rates of anti-LGBT violence, including several mob attacks over the past five years. His affidavit in the case includes reference to a 2011 report of a group that invaded the home of a 16-year-old named Gordon Oshane, which chopped his foot off as he attempted to escape through a window before killing him.

Tomlinson's filings also say that the buggery law leads police to turn a blind eye towards these attacks, even turning on the victims when they seek protection.

"I have found that some police officers themselves are often responsible for attacks against gay men and other [men who have sex with men] and/or are unwilling to take seriously the investigation of attacks and threats when these are reported to them," Tomlinson states in his court filing. Victims "have good reason not to trust the police."

Tomlinson said the court has scheduled the first procedural hearing of the case for February 23.

Read the two court filings here.

J. Lester Feder is a world correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. His secure PGP fingerprint is 2353 DB68 8AA6 92BD 67B8 94DF 37D8 0A6F D70B 7211

Contact J. Lester Feder at lester.feder@buzzfeed.com.

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