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Gary Younge
Jamaican gay activist shot dead after being abducted

"It seems as though his homosexuality might have been a factor in the murder," said one friend. "I can't say for sure it was the reason he was targeted. But the other two didn't defend their identity. Steve did and he was killed."

Mr Harvey worked primarily with sex workers and gay people to combat the high rates of HIV in Jamaica, where the number of those infected doubles every few years and now stands at 1.5% of the population.

"Steve wasn't afraid to stand up and did work with a lot of people who are hardest to reach," said one gay activist who did not wish to be named. "It's a loss to the gay community and the HIV/Aids effort. There are always shades of grey when it comes to the motives for these kind of murders. But it seems homophobia was an element."

In a population of 2.7 million people, Jamaica has seen almost 1,400 murders this year alone, giving it a per-capita murder rate close to Colombia's. But gay people have been singled out for attack and, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, get little protection from the government or the police. "Violence against men who have sex with men - ranging from verbal harassment to beatings, armed attacks and murder - is pervasive in Jamaica," according to Hated to Death, a report released by HRW last November. "High-level political leaders foster an atmosphere of violence toward men who have sex with men."

Homosexuality is illegal in Jamaica and homophobia finds popular expression in many dance hall tunes which openly call for the murder of gay men.

Last year Jamaica's most prominent gay activist, Brian Williamson, was found murdered at his home with multiple stab wounds to his neck and face and his throat cut. With the safe missing and the room ransacked, the police insisted that it had been a robbery. But human rights campaigners believe Mr Williamson, a co-founder of Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays, was killed because of his sexual orientation.

Peter Tatchell, of the British gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender group, OutRage, said: "It is thanks to the efforts of Steve and his colleagues that many Jamaican men and women - both gay and straight - have not contracted HIV. They have helped save hundreds of lives."

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