Nigerian authorities are said to have detained five men over the weekend after accusing them of being gay. The arrests are part of a growing trend of police violence against LGBTQ+ people.
The men were apprehended by the State Hisbah Board, an Islamic police unit set up by the local government in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest city, on Sunday. The circumstances leading up to the incident were kept under wraps for a long time. According to the Nigerian news site Vanguard, the board’s commander general, Dr. Harun Ibn-Sina, said the police’s actions were prompted by reports of unspecified activity from local residents.
Ibn-Sina stated that the suspects would be charged in court, but he did not specify a date for the trial. He is accused of urging young people, whom he referred to as “leaders of tomorrow,” to “shun unwholesome practices” such as homosexuality.
Similar arrests have been made in the past by Kano’s Islamic police force. According to the website Punch Nigeria, the Hisbah unit apprehended 15 people suspected of being gay at a party hosted by college graduates in January 2020. Authorities announced at the time that those arrested would be taken to a “correctional center” to be “re-oriented,” implying that the harmful and discredited practice of conversion therapy would be used.
Individuals detained on suspicion of being gay could face a sentence of up to 14 years in prison under Nigerian law. While LGBTQ+ Nigerians have long been criminalized due to colonial-era anti-gay sex laws, the situation has become more precarious in recent decades.
With the passage of the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act in 2013, Nigeria strengthened its anti-homosexuality laws (SSMPA). While the law’s name implies that it only applies to marriage equality, it has a much broader scope. The legislation, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), prohibits gay couples from cohabiting and any kind of “public show of same sex amorous relationship.” It also prohibits LGBTQ+ organizations from operating openly in the country.
According to reports, police violence against Nigeria’s LGBTQ+ community has increased dramatically in the eight years since the law was enacted.
In 2018, at least 47 people were arrested on suspicion of being gay after police raided a birthday party and claimed that attendees had engaged in “homosexual initiation.” Although the men were eventually released last year, their case was dropped due to the prosecution’s lack of responsiveness rather than a full acquittal. That means those who have been charged could be arrested again at any time on the same charges.
Many of the men told Reuters that fighting the case for two years had taken its toll, with them being shunned by their families and communities. Chris Agiriga, 23, said, “Everyone in the area knew about it.” “All because of this, I lost my job, my family, and a lot of my friends.”
According to the Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER), a human rights organization based in Nigeria, persecution of LGBTQ+ Nigerians has increased significantly under the presidency of anti-gay leader Muhammadu Buhari. Despite low reporting rates among trans people, intersex people, and women, a 2020 report found a total of 482 human rights violations in the previous year.
COVID-19 restrictions, which kept vulnerable populations at home with potential abusers, are also said to have increased anti-LGBTQ+ violence. Entrapments of gay men have also increased, with police faking their sexual orientations in order to lure victims into a situation where they can be caught and arrested.
Homosexuality is legal in only 22 of Africa’s 54 countries, according to a global review conducted by the LGBTQ+ rights organization ILGA in 2020. Anti-gay criminal codes, as in Nigeria, are frequently relics of colonialism.
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