UPDATE: Activists in Nigeria report that "dozens" more have been arrested. Details below.
The situation for LGBT people in Nigeria appears to be rapidly deteriorating in the wake of a draconian new law that imposes stiff prison sentences for everything from same-sex marriage to LGBT rights advocacy and public displays of same-sex affection.
The harshest crackdowns are happening in the country's predominantly Muslim north, where Sharia (Islamic) law -- under which homosexuality is punishable by death -- runs alongside civil law. Agence France-Presse reports that Nigeria's new anti-homosexuality law has enabled Islamic law enforcers and Sharia courts, who have vowed to conduct raids against those suspected of being gay or lesbian:
Islamic law enforcers in north Nigeria's biggest city on Wednesday vowed a crackdown on homosexual activity, in the wake of new anti-gay marriage legislation that has sparked international outrage...
The deputy head of the Hisbah in Kano state, Usman Nabahani, told AFP that the new law banning gay marriage and civil partnerships was a "welcome development".
"Definitely, we will work tirelessly toward the enforcement of this law by the special grace of God," he added.
The Hisbah has in recent months cracked down on prostitution and drug addiction in the majority Muslim city and pledged to do the same against homosexuality. "Obviously, we will embark on similar raids on gays and lesbians in Kano," he added, vowing to work "hand in hand" with security agencies to enforce the national legislation.
"From now on, we will go into every nook and corner of Kano state to ensure that (the prohibition of) prostitution, gay marriages, marriages of the same sex and consumption of alcohol... is fully complied with, so that we can have a decent society. We are given more power, we are given more support now to wage serious war against these issues."
In the neighboring state of Bauchi, however, the trial and punishment of homosexuals has reportedly already begun. Details, after the jump.
Working From a Hit List
Dorothy Aken'ova (left), the executive director of Nigeria's International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, told AFP that police in Bauchi plan to make arrests using hit list that contains the names of more than 160 suspected homosexuals.
At least 11 gay Muslim men have already been put on trial for the "crime" of homosexuality, the BBC reports:
An Islamic court in Nigeria's northern state of Bauchi has put on trial 11 Muslim men accused of being homosexuals in violation of their religion, a religious leader has told the BBC. A 12th person arrested - a Christian - would be tried under secular law, a BBC reporter says. Under Islamic law, a person can be sentenced to death by stoning if convicted of homosexuality.
Local officials claim that civilians are also getting involved, making citizen's arrests:
Jibrin Danlami Hassan, the commissioner of Bauchi state's Sharia Commission, said the alleged homosexuals were arrested by residents of Bauchi city. They were handed to the Islamic police force, which interrogated them, he said.
"They accept that they are doing that dirty game," Mr. Hassan said.
Ms. Aken'Ova said some of those arrested had been beaten up and tortured, but Mr Hassan denied this.
The BBC's Ishaq Khalid in Bauchi says the Sharia Commission confirmed to him that a Christian had been arrested with the 11 Muslims, and would be tried in a "conventional court". The Muslims could be sentenced to death by stoning if they are convicted, but the court would decide, Mr. Hassan said.
He "Screamed in Pain While Being Lashed"
According to another BBC report, at least one such trial has already concluded: that of a 20-year-old man named Mubarak Ibrahim, who was accused of engaging in gay sex acts seven years ago.
The judge reportedly opted for leniency because Mr. Ibrahim said he had stopped having gay sex. Ibrahim was ordered to receive 20 lashes and pay a fine equivalent to about $30.
Mr. Ibrahim told the BBC he was relieved that Judge Nuhu Muhammad had been lenient on him and had not sentenced him to death. The BBC's Ishaq Khalid was in court when Mr. Ibrahim was lashed with a whip, made of animal skin smeared with oil.
Mr Ibrahim, who had pleaded guilty to the charge, was ordered to lie on a bench, and an official whipped his back in front of a packed courtroom, our correspondent says. Mr. Ibrahim screamed in pain while being lashed, but was able to walk afterwards, he adds.
The BBC adds that two other men accused of homosexuality will be tried on Thursday, January 23, but the fate of nine others arrested for the same "crime" is unclear at this time.
Officials and governments across the Western world from the United Nations on down have roundly condemned Nigeria's anti-homosexuality law, but Muslim Rights Concern, a Nigeria-based Muslim rights group, is warning Western nations to back off, demanding they "desist from interfering with [Nigeria's] internal affairs."
Calling the U.N. a "tool of powerful capitalist nations," Muslim Rights Concern robustly defended the law. "Most reprehensible is the attempt by foreign powers to intimidate and coerce Nigeria into absorbing their despicable culture by threatening to withhold foreign aid."
"...the practice of homosexualism and lesbianism is... capable of instigating widespread hatred and turning society upside down," the group added.
Christian South Not Immune
While much of the terror is concentrated in Nigeria's Muslim north, LGBT people in the largely evangelical Christian south are facing increased threats, intimidations, and arrests as well. Amnesty International issued a statement highlighting the arrests of a handful of suspected homosexuals in four southern states:
Nigeria must immediately release the more than 10 people already arrested under a deeply oppressive new law that runs roughshod over a range of human rights and discriminates based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity, Amnesty International said.
The arrests have been made in several Nigerian states such as Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Oyo states since Monday, when it was revealed that President Goodluck Jonathan had signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law...
Those targeted under the new law included five allegedly gay men who were arrested yesterday in Ibadan, Oyo state - they have since been released on bail. In the south-eastern city of Awka, Anambra state, six persons were reportedly arrested and detained by the police. Human rights defenders told Amnesty International that the arrests and intimidation of LGBTI people in Nigeria is expanding across the country.
Nigerian Gays Speak
Dennis, a gay LGBT rights worker from northern Nigeria who fled the country and is now seeking asylum in the United States, recounted his experience at an LGBT immigration and asylum briefing on Capitol Hill last week:
"For [the majority of Muslims], they feel that [gays] are evil and they need to kill them," he said, noting that most Christians agree. "I couldn't even tell my family members I worked with the LGBT community; I told them I did volunteer work with the U.S. Embassy."
Dennis said he was arrested by police and accused of going out to other parts of Nigeria to "make people become gay." Police allegedly tortured him, depriving him of food and water for four days before he managed to escape. But he couldn't get away for long: soon, Dennis began receiving "funny calls from the Sharia commission" threatening his safety.
"Under Sharia, they believe that anyone who is practicing sodomy, or anyone who is gay, should be stoned to death," he said. Once the phone calls started, Dennis knew he had to leave the country. They told him the Sharia commission meant business, he said, and they wouldn't stop until they "get what they want."
Yesterday, CNN's Christiane Amanpour interviewed Bisi Alimi, the first Nigerian man to come out of the closet on national television in 2004. He fled the country in 2007 and sought asylum in the United Kingdom.
The two spoke about the situation for LGBT Nigerians. Watch:
UPDATE: According to the Associated Press, Nigerian LGBT advocates are reporting "dozens" of further arrests today:
Activists say that dozens more people have been rounded up, arrested and questioned across Nigeria for being perceived to be gay just over a week after the president signed a law criminalizing gay organizations, meetings as well as same-sex marriage.
Ifeanyi Kelly Orazulike, Executive Director of the Nigeria-based International Center for Advocacy on Right to Health, said Friday that over two days more than 30 people have been detained. He says 12 people have been arrested in Oyo state in the southwest, six in Imo state in the southeast, eight in central Abuja and six in Anambra state in the southeast.
Image source: PBS.
h/t for Amanpour interview: Towleroad.