On Monday, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that criminalizes gay marriage, gay organizations and anyone working with or promoting them. This has lead to a mass arrest of dozens of men who are gay or even suspected gay.
The bill, which is widely condemned by the international community and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, enforces penalties of 14 years in jail for gay marriage and up to 10 years for membership or encouragement of any gay organizations.
Four men were first arrested then were tortured until they named others, which then led to an all out “witch hunt” for the named men, according to human rights activists who warned that such persecution will rise under the new Nigerian law.
It is unknown exactly how many arrests were made in Nigeria’s Bauchi state, and a local law enforcement official denied that anyone was tortured.
All of this hostility began after an unfounded rumor that the United States had paid gay activists $20 million to promote same-sex marriage in this highly religious and conservative nation.
The severity of this “witch hunt” can be seen in the actions of the local police officials. The trickery involved in trying to make these arrests saw an officer pretending to be a gay man that joined a group being counseled on AIDS, just to get information and names of those involved who are gay, according to Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights.
The police have arrested 38 men to date and are still on the hunt for 168 others, according to Aken’Ova, whose organization is helping provide legal services to the men. The AIDS counselor said he has helped secure bail for some of the 38 detainees. Many of the 168 men being “hunted” have fled the country.
Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First, a Washington-based organization, said he was alarmed by the reports of torture and arrests.
“When discriminatory bills like this are passed, we are always concerned that they set the stage for violence and ill-treatment in society even when they are not enforced,” Gaylord said in a statement. “But the fact that this law is being enforced so quickly and forcefully demonstrates the full extent of Nigeria’s human rights crisis.”
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