Islamic officials stormed a resort in a north Nigerian town on Monday, arresting 12 young men for allegedly planning a gay wedding, the agency that enforces rules under Sharia in the region said on Tuesday.
The enforcement agency, known as Hisbah, said that the men — mostly teenagers — were arrested outside of the country's second city of Kano, while the ceremony was allegedly happening. The authorities were reportedly tipped off about the event prior to carrying out the raid at a popular resort. Nigeria's government passed a law last year criminalizing gay marriage, associations, and meetings.
"We have 12 men in custody, including the bride. We arrested them at the venue of a planned gay wedding," Hisbah head Aminu Daurawa said, according to the AFP. "We got information of the wedding four days earlier and our men stormed the venue while the wedding was about to start."
Since the arrest, 10 of the individuals have reportedly been released to their parents, who were compelled to sign paperwork assuring the authorities thatthey would prevent their children from engaging again in similar activities. One of the men accused of participating in the wedding, 18-year-old Faruk Maiduguri, told reportersthat it was not a wedding but actually his birthday party.
Hisbah appeared to have little evidence confirming they had actually infiltrated a same-sex wedding ceremony.
"It is still an allegation but when we screened them, they really looked gay, and the way they behaved was gay," Hisbah spokesman Mohammed Yusuf Yola told Reuters.
Olumide Makanjuola, the director of the Initiative for Equal Rights, a Nigerian nonprofit advocate for sexual minorities, told VICE News that it has been trying to confirm details of the incident, but he noted disapprovingly that the men were arrested solely based on suspicions that they were gay. He was troubled by the fact that the authorities had been so public about the arrest, saying it felt like arresting gay men had "become an achievement" for police.
Adebisi Alimi, a prominent Nigerian gay rights activist who was forced to leave the country after an attack on his life in 2012, told VICE News that the boys will now face hardships, even though there is likely no evidence to prove they are gay or that a wedding was occurring. The accusation is damaging enough — whether true or not, Alimi said such allegations can bring shame and scorn upon families and compel the accused to leave their homes and even the area.
Alimi stressed that instances like this are not exclusive to Nigeria's northern states, where Sharia runs parallel with the country's legal system.
"This is not a north Nigeria problem, this is a Nigerian problem," he said. "What happened is not happening in isolation…. So many people in Nigeria have been beaten up, assaulted, thrown out of their houses because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."
The nationwide law passed in 2014 not only bans same-sex marriage, but bars relationships and the operation of gay clubs, meetings, or rights groups. This legislation has resulted in gay men being arrested throughout the country.
"A person who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies or organizations, or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a term of 10 years," the law reads.
More than 100 gay men have been arrested since President Goodluck Jonathan signed the legislation into law last January, according to Alimi. Most of them settle their cases by paying fines rather than going to court. Alimi said that police typically ask a suspect for the names of other gay people in Nigeria before releasing the person, sometimes even looking through their phone book for numbers.
After the bill was enacted, the US Embassy in Abuja voiced its worry that the law would encourage violence against homosexuals.
"Since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed, we have expressed concern as a friend of Nigeria that it might be used by some to justify violence against Nigerians based on their sexual orientation," the embassy said in a statement at the time.
Makanjuola echoed this unease, stressing that the law had made the Nigerian gay community more vulnerable.
"What it has done is given validation to hate other people," he said.