Pulse, a Nigerian news website, reported that religious forces known as the Hisbah who enforce Sharia law in the northern part of the country that is predominantly Muslim, detained what they described as “suspected homosexuals” who were attending a same-sex wedding at a resort outside the city of Kano.
The newspaper reported the authorities arrested one of the men who “was on the verge of tying the knot with his partner.”
Aminu Daurawa, the head of the Hisbah, confirmed to Agence France-Presse that authorities had made the arrests.
“We have 12 men in custody, including the bride,” said Daurawa, according to Agence France-Presse. “We arrested them at the venue of a planned gay wedding.”
Jeffrey Smith of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a Washington-based human rights organization, criticized the arrests.
“These arrests are deeply concerning, for in many ways Nigeria sets the bar for the rest of Africa,” he told the Washington Blade. “The actions of Nigerian authorities can often have far-reaching and negative consequences across the continent.”
The arrests took place a year after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a law — known as the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act — that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.
Nigeria is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Those found guilty of homosexuality in the northern part of the country that is under Sharia law face the death penalty.
“People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality,” said Secretary of State John Kerry last January after Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law. “No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.”
President Obama last August faced criticism over his decision to invite Jonathan and other anti-LGBT African heads of state to the White House during a summit in D.C.
Kerry on Sunday discussed Boko Haram, an Islamic extreme group that has killed tens of thousands of people in the northeastern part of the country since launching a violent insurgency in 2009, and Nigeria’s upcoming presidential elections with Jonathan during a meeting that took place in Lagos.
It is not immediately clear whether Kerry raised Nigeria’s LGBT rights record with Jonathan during their meeting.
“If you look at Nigeria from left to right, east to west, north to south, every entity in that country detests homosexuality,” Duke, a bisexual Nigerian man who fled to Canada in 2012, told the Blade during an interview after Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law. “Every single group has given [Jonathan] a thumbs up.”
A State Department official on Tuesday told the Blade the agency “has seen the reports” about the men who were arrested outside of Kano and are “looking into” them.
“We continue to promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in cooperation with Nigerian civil society groups,” said the official.