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Nigerian Sharia enforcers emboldened by anti-gay marriage law

Thursday 16 January 2014, by siawi3


By Aminu Abubakar (AFP)

Kano — 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 Hisbah’s pledge came as Sharia court officials in the northern state of Bauchi announced that a number of men had been charged with breaking the law banning homosexuality.

Nigeria was one of 78 countries worldwide to ban homosexuality even before confirmation this week that the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill 2013 had made the statute books.

But in northern states, where Sharia or Islamic law runs parallel to the state and federal justice system, it is also punishable by death, although the sentence is rarely, if ever, enforced.

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."

’Hit list’, arrests

Nabahani was speaking as it emerged that five men had appeared in an Islamic court in Bauchi on January 6 and four had pleaded guilty under Sharia law to forming a gay club.

“They were arraigned by the Bauchi state Sharia Commission... following an allegation that they had formed a gay club and received $150,000 from the United States,” said court clerk Abdul Mohammed.

All five were remanded in custody until the next hearing on January 23, he added.

The Bauchi state Sharia Commission chief Mustapha Baba Ilela meanwhile said at least 12 people had been arrested on suspicion of breaking Sharia laws banning sodomy since the start of the year.

“All the accused were apprehended by the community, which is averse to homosexuality, and handed over to us,” he added.

“The suspects confessed to committing the act they are accused of without threat or inducement and we have the audio and written confessions.”

Dorothy Aken’ova, the executive director of the International Centre for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, added that the police in Bauchi had more than 160 names on a list and were planning arrests.

Since the law was signed, she said 24 people had been arrested in three southern states — 12 in Ibadan, Oyo; six in Owerri, Imo; and six in Awka, the capital of Anambra.

Most of the people arrested had previously been detained but had been re-arrested since the new law was announced, she added.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill into law against gay marriage and civil partnerships earlier this month, despite international pressure for him to reject it.

The legislation imposes penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment for anyone found to have entered into such a union, while anyone found to support gay groups or clubs runs the risk of 10 years’ jail.

The law, which effectively reinforces existing bans on homosexuality in Nigeria, has been widely condemned abroad as draconian.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” while the UN human rights commissioner, Navi Pillay, accused Nigeria of trampling over the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Gay rights activists within and outside Nigeria said the law legitimised homophobic violence and increased fears of persecution.

But Jonathan’s move has been widely applauded within Nigeria, which is highly religious and where evangelical Christianity is popular, particularly in the south.