Dancehall Artiste Buju Banton Freed of Assault Charge

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By: Jigga YardFlex Reporter

buju_banton.jpgDeejay Buju Banton, who was at the centre of a firestorm of criticism generated by a sustained campaign by gay rights groups against homophobic lyrics, was acquitted today in the Half Way Tree Resident Magistrates' court of assault charges leveled against him by gay men.

The entertainment community cheered the decision to acquit the deejay, and a large contingent of well-wishers, fellow deejays and other supporters were on hand. In HWT, some supporters waved flags and chanted anti-gay slogans as they cheered their Rastafarian hero.

"Vindicated. After all the persecution by Amnesty International who found the deejay guilty without the benefit of the trial. I would love to hear what they are going to say now," Donovan Germaine, manager of the deejay, told YardFlex.com.

"There had been a big cloud over his head because of this trial and it definitely put a damper on his career last year to the point where he never really went anywhere to perform overseas because of the pressure from the gay rights' groups, and the whole experience costs us a lot of time and money," he said.

Contacted yesterday, a man who gave his name as 'Garrett', the programme manager at the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals, and Gays (JFLAG), said that the organization would "defer its comments to its lawyers as we have not yet finalized our discussion on the verdict".

Several members of the entertainment fraternity had been anxiously awaiting the verdict of one of reggae's most public faces, Buju Banton. Banton, whose real name is Mark Myrie, is known for the seminal anti-gay dancehall hit, 'Boom Bye Bye' in the early era of his career, but after a spiritual conversion to Rastafarianism, became known for a plethora of wonderful reggae gems such as 'Til Shiloh' and 'Wanna Be Loved'.

The police had alleged that Banton might be among a group of men who barged into a house on Carlisle Avenue in Kingston on June 24 2004 and beat six men who they accused of being homosexuals.

Last year, the rastafarian entertainer had been ordered to report to the Constant Spring Police Station every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, between the hours of 6:00 am and 8:00 pm as a condition of his bail.

The case against Buju Banton last came before the court on September 30. This incendiary aspects of the case could well have signalled the death knell of Buju Banton's career, and placed his tour dates in Europe and the United States in jeopardy. The allegations of abuse against an alleged homosexual triggered a major attack on Buju's character and reputation by overzealous gay rights activists because he had traditionally been one of their favorite targets.

Almost 17 years ago, 'Boom Bye Bye' first drew great criticism from gay rights groups, which claimed the song incited the murder of gay persons. Buju Banton was one of eight dancehall artistes who have come under pressure from gay rights lobby groups in Europe and the United States for their gay-bashing lyrics. In fact, several of these artistes have had a number of their stage shows cancelled as a result of the sustained public relations and political pressure by these gay rights' groups.

The deejay may be emerging on the silver lining of what has been a dark and cloudy period in his personal and private life. Only two years ago, Banton had been banned from travelling to the United States for one year after he was found guilty of possession of and cultivation of marijuana in the local courts and ordered to pay a fine of $9,000 or serve 60 days in prison in April 2004.

In March 2005 the travel ban was lifted by the United States Embassy.

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