45 out of 53 arrested for illegal gay wedding in Nigeria flee prosecutors
Nearly all of the 53 people who are facing criminal charges in Nigeria after police claimed they attended a same-sex wedding have jumped bail.
It has been illegal to be gay in Nigeria for a long time, but a 2013 law increased penalties and included same-sex unions as well as gay sex in what is criminalised.
Under the law, people who enter any form of same-sex union are liable for 14 years’ imprisonment, while people who “witness, abet and aids the solemnization of a same sex marriage or civil union” can face up to 10 years in jail.
The BBC last month reported that police in the country had carried out a raid on an alleged ceremonial same-sex wedding in the city of Zaria.
According to the broadcaster, 53 people were arrested and were charged with conspiring to celebrate a same-sex wedding.
But now 45 out of the 53 people have jumped bail and have warrants out for their arrest, reports the Daily Post.
Police prosecutor, Sergeant Mannir Nasir, told the court on Monday that only eight out of the 53 people had turned up to court.
He has applied for bench warrants to arrest the other 45 people.
A further hearing will take place on 31 May.
Defence lawyer Yunusa Umar said most of the accused were students, and claimed they had been celebrating a birthday and not a same-sex union.
A court heard that the arrestees were poorly treated by authorities, and had been illegally detained for more than 24 hours,
Maria Sjodin of OutRight Action International told NBC: “Only the police claim that it was a wedding party.
“The police are using the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act as an excuse for mass arrests, maybe even as a way to get bribes.
“The Nigerian [anti-LGBT] law is much more far reaching than just same-sex marriage, it really is a way to crack down on anyone advocating for human rights of LGBT people.”
There is a strong social taboo around homosexuality in Nigeria, driven by a strong anti-LGBT evangelical Christian movement in the south and the spread of hardline Islam in the north.
Human rights groups say the 2013 Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act has been exploited to target the LGBT community.
A recent Human Rights Watch report says: “While existing legislation already criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct in Nigeria, the report found that the SSMPA, in many ways, officially authorizes abuses against LGBT people, effectively making a bad situation worse.
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“The passage of the SSMPA was immediately followed by extensive media reports of high levels of violence, including mob attacks and extortion against LGBT people.
Former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan (Right) signed the country’s anti-LGBT law in 2013
“The law has become a tool being used by some police officers and members of the public to legitimize multiple human rights violations perpetrated against LGBT people.
“Such violations include torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, violations of due process rights, and extortion.
“Human Rights Watch research indicates that since January 2014, there have been rising incidents of mob violence, with groups of people gathering together and acting with a common intent of committing acts of violence against persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Arbitrary arrest and extortion by police is commonplace under the SSMPA.”