Twelve Nigerian men are being put on trial for being gay, in accordance with Nigeria’s newest legislation criminalizing homosexuality. Eleven will be tried under Islamic Sharia law and the twelfth, a Christian, under secular law.
BBC reported that the men are from Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi. Rights activist Dorothy Aken'Ova with Nigeria’s International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights told the news source that she knew of 38 others being arrested for the crime of homosexuality in Bauchi alone last month.
Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act this month. The bill was introduced last year and bans gay groups and public displays of affection between gay people, in addition to same-sex marriage. Gay sex is also illegal in Nigeria, where anti-gay sentiment is the norm.
According the Islamic Sharia law, which operates in conjunction to its secular law in the country’s predominately Muslim north, homosexuality is a crime punishable by stoning.
Jibrin Danlami Hassan, the commissioner of Bauchi state's Sharia Commission, said that Bauchi residents arrested the men themselves and handed them over the Islamic police force.
"They accept that they are doing that dirty game," Hassan said of their interrogation.
Aken'Ova said she knew of some alleged homosexuals being beaten up and tortured upon arrest, which Hassan denied.
"What this act is saying is that they [gay people] do not deserve to exist," Aken'Ova said of the new legislation on a BBC radio show.
"It is heartbreaking that we have come to this point in Nigeria."
Nigerian activists swiftly criticized the new law, which makes participating in any kind of gay organization—including those dedicated to fighting AIDS— a crime punishable by 10 years in prison. Activists also fear that it will prevent some HIV-positive gay people from seeking treatment out of fear of persecution.
Generally, however, the public is in favor of the law. The Los Angeles Times reported that 98% of Nigerians support the anti-gay legislation.
The international community has also been vocal in condemning Jonathan’s legislation. A spokesperson for the Geneva-based International Service for Human Rights said the law is “manifestly incompatible with international human rights standards and must be repealed."