BAUCHI, Nigeria — The young man cried out as he was being whipped on the courtroom bench. The bailiff’s leather whip struck him 20 times, and when it was over, the man’s side and back were covered with bruises.
Still, the large crowd outside was disappointed, the judge recalled: The penalty for gay sex under local Islamic law is death by stoning.
“He is supposed to be killed,” the judge, Nuhu Idris Mohammed, said, praising his own leniency on judgment day last month at the Shariah court here. The bailiff demonstrated the technique he used: whip at shoulder level, then forcefully down.
The mood is unforgiving in this north Nigeria metropolis, where nine others accused of being gay by the Islamic police are behind the central prison’s high walls. Stones and bottles rained down on them outside the court two weeks ago, residents and officials said; some in the mob even wanted to set the courtroom ablaze, witnesses said.
Since Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, signed a harsh law criminalizing homosexuality throughout the country last month, arrests of gay people have multiplied, advocates have been forced to go underground, some people fearful of the law have sought asylum overseas and news media demands for a crackdown have flourished.
Gay sex has been illegal in Nigeria since British colonial rule, but convictions were rare in the south and only occasional in the mostly Muslim north. The new law bans same-sex marriage and goes significantly further, prescribing 10 years in prison for those who “directly or indirectly” make a “public show” of same-sex relationships. It also punishes anyone who participates in gay clubs and organizations, or who simply supports them, leading to broad international criticism of the sweep of the law.
“This draconian new law makes an already-bad situation much worse,” the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said in a statement. “It purports to ban same-sex marriage ceremonies but in reality does much more,” she added. “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries, according to Amnesty International, and carries the death penalty in Mauritania, Sudan and Somalia, as well as Shariah-governed northern Nigeria. Recently Uganda’s president declined to sign a bill that carried a life sentence for gays, though he called them sick. In Senegal, where the press regularly “outs” gays, same-sex relations carry a penalty of five years.