Rights groups are calling for Jamaican leaders to condemn the comments of a lawmaker who has called for life imprisonment for being gay.

On February 10, Ernest Smith, a Jamaica Labor Party parliamentarian, described gay men and lesbians as “abusive” and “violent,” and called for tightening of Jamaica's law that outlaws being gay. Smith said the law should impose sentences of up to life in prison.

Six days later, Smith told a Jamaican newspaper that J-FLAG, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, “should be outlawed.” Smith said, “How can you legitimize an organization that is formed for the purposes of committing criminal offenses?''

Human Rights Watch, a group dedicated to defending the rights of racial, economic and sexual minorities around the world, wrote to Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding demanding action.

“In calling for the the strengthening of an already-draconian stature against homosexual conduct, and in citing that law to urge the banning of legitimate organizations, he [Smith] demonstrates the malign effect of so-called 'sodomy laws' on a democratic body politic,” Human Rights Watch said in their letter to Golding.

“Such laws permit not just the invasion of privacy, but the restriction of public rights, such as the freedoms to associate and assemble. They mark out certain persons as second-class citizens, permanently suspect.”

“We urge you to condemn Mr. Smith's statements, and to affirm Jamaica's commitment to real equality for all its citizens without exceptions.”

Violence against LGBT people in Jamaica is at near epidemic levels, fueled in large part by the openly homophobic remarks of its leaders.

In the town of Mandeville on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2007, about 100 men attacked 150 people attending the funeral of a gay man. The men became violent, breaking windows and threatening to kill the mourners. Police officers called to the scene neither restrained the mob nor detained members as they escaped, Human Rights Watch reported.

In another 2007 incident in the town of Kingston, a vicious mob of at least 200 demanded the death of four men because they were gay. This time police officers joined in the violence – they verbally abused the men and struck one in the face, head and stomach.

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