53 people are facing criminal charges in Nigeria after police claimed they attended a same-sex wedding.
Homosexuality has long been illegal in Nigeria, but a draconian 2013 law moved beyond simply targeting gay sex – extending the provisions to criminalise all forms of same-sex unions and clamp down on the LGBT community .
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 reports that police in the country this month 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 have been charged with conspiring to celebrate a same-sex wedding.
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.
“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.”