A group of men arrested at a hotel in northern Nigeria and initially accused of sodomy have appeared in court charged with “indecent dressing” and vagrancy.

18 men were charged and five were bailed, causing disturbances by Muslim youths on the streets of the city of Bauchi.

The men, who were detained by police earlier this month, come from different parts of Nigeria and were allegedly dressed in women’s clothes.

They had come together to celebrate a gay ‘marriage,’ according to the NAN government news agency.

The youths were protesting because they felt the men were being let off lightly. They stoned the court house and chanted slogans.

There were reportedly also attempts to set fire to the court house. Police fired tear gas to disperse them, according to the BBC.

“Though none of the suspects was hit, pandemonium ensued when both foreign and local journalists scampered into the safety of the little courtroom away from the torrential missiles,” reports thisdayonline.com

The arrests took place in Bauchi city, the capital of a Muslim state in the centre of Nigeria, with a population of 316,000.

Sharia law is enforced in the state and if found guilty of sodomy the men could have been executed.

They instead face charges under Section 372 of the Bauchi Shari’a Penal Code Law 2001.

The maximum penalty is one year in prison and 30 lashes.

The case has received considerable press attention in Nigeria.

Bauchi state has already convicted three people to death by stoning for sexual offences and an agency who oversee the implementation of sharia law is pressing for the sentences to be carried out.

In Nigeria, the governor in a Muslim state must give his approval for some of the harsher penalties handed down by sharia courts, such as execution or amputation.

Predominantly Muslim states in Nigeria introduced sharia law, a legal system based on Islamic theory and philosophy of justice, in 2000.

In reality the re-introduction of harsh punishments apart from the death penalty has been the main feature of sharia courts.

In Bauchi state alone there are 40 people awaiting amuputation of one or both hands for theft.