NBC News – 53 men have been arrested in Nigeria for celebrating a same-sex wedding.
Nigerian police confirmed they had arrested the group of young men for “belonging to a gang of unlawful society”, according to Associated Press.
The men were arrested on Saturday (April 15) in the northern city of Zaria during a celebration to mark to wedding of a same-sex couple, prosecuting officer Mannir Nasir told a court on Wednesday (April 19).
A defence lawyer for the group said most of the accused were students and that they had been illegally detained by the authorities for more than 24 hours, local outlet Premium Times reports.
Same-sex marriage is banned in Nigeria, while the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act introduced in 2014 also made it a criminal offence to perform or witness a gay wedding ceremony.
The devastatingly repressive bill, signed into law by former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, also outlawed LGBT+ organisations, gay clubs, and public displays of affection between same-sex couples.
As well as the ban on marriage, both male and female same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Nigeria. The maximum punishment is 14 years in prison, though areas of the Muslim-majority north also carry the death penalty under Islamic law.
The 53 men have pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy and unlawful assembly. They have been granted bail and their next hearing has been set for May 8.
Maria Sjodin, deputy executive director of LGBTQ advocacy group OutRight Action International, said she believes the gay wedding story is just an “excuse” and part of the police’s attempt to “crackdown on an emerging LGBTQ movement” in Nigeria.
“Only the police claim that it was a wedding party,” she told NBC Out, adding that sources in Nigeria told her organization the event was “actually a birthday party.”
“The police are using the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act as an excuse for mass arrests, maybe even as a way to get bribes,” Sjodin said. “The Nigerian law is much more far reaching than just same-sex marriage, it really is a way to crack down on anyone advocating for human rights of LGBT people.”