"Dozens" of gay men have reportedly been arrested in northern Nigeria under an extreme anti-gay law that bans same-sex relationships and membership in pro-gay organizations, according to human rights activists quoted by the Associated Press. The arrested men face sentences of up to 14-years in prison. At least four men say they were tortured.
The arrests happened in northern Bauchi state which is predominately Muslim. The news comes one day after it was confirmed that President Goodluck Jonathan signed the bill in secret on January 7.
In Bauchi state, police entrapped four gay men and tortured them into naming others, said Dorothy Aken'Ova, executive director of Nigeria's International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights. She said the police have drawn up a list of 168 wanted gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested in recent weeks.
The chairman of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, Mustapha Baba Ilela, told the AP that 11 men have been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization. He denied anyone had been tortured and said all 11 — 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim — signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization but that some of them retracted the statements when they were charged by a judge.
An AIDS counsellor told The Associated Press he helped get bail for the men and also said a total of 38 were arrested. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear he would be arrested. Aken'Ova's organization is providing legal services for them.
Sodomy is already outlawed under existing federal law in Africa's most populous nation. Twenty-four of Nigeria's 36 states punish same-sex acts with up to 14 years imprisonment. Twelve Islamic states in northern Nigeria—including Bauchi— have introduced Sharia law that has sentenced several gays to death. However, the death sentences have reportedly never been enforced and the sentences were commuted.
The legislation also bans same sex couples from living together, bans pro-LGBT websites or groups and prosecute their friends or human rights activists. The new law is expected to be extremely "popular" and should help President Jonathan's 2015 re-election campaign, adds The Guardian.
The draconian anti-gay legislation is likely to undermine Nigeria's fight against HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
The new legislation ... will prevent gay people in the country from accessing essential HIV services, and is likely to spur further hatred of the LGBT community, the two organisations said.
Nigeria had an estimated 3.4 million people living with HIV in 2012, the world’s second largest HIV epidemic, they said. In 2010, HIV prevalence in Nigeria was estimated at 4 percent among the general population and 17 percent among men who have sex with men, UNAIDS said.
"The provisions of the new law in Nigeria could lead to increased homophobia, discrimination, denial of HIV services and violence based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity," Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS executive director, said in a statement released on Tuesday.
Previous versions of the bill banned gays from meeting, living together, reading LGBT websites or even going out to dinner. The comprehensive anti-gay legislation was passed unanimously by Nigeria's House of Representatives in late May 2013. It later passed the Senate.
Same-sex acts are currently illegal in at least 38 of 54 African countries. Four nations—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—boast the death penalty for gays or same-sex activity. South Africa and Seychelles are the only African nations that protect LGBT rights. South Africa is the only African nation that mandates equal marriage.
Some Background ...
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