independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Same sex couples arrested as new anti-gay law enforced in Nigeria

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigerian authorities today began arresting gay men after legislation was quietly approved criminalising homosexuality and imposing prison terms up to 14 years for breaking the new law.

Several gay couples were taken into custody in the country’s majority-Muslim north, and rights groups feared that others would be targeted across the West African country.

Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s president, signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act into law on January 7, but there was no public report of the new law until journalists obtained a copy of the act on Monday.

It prohibits homosexuals from even meeting in groups of two or more, bans marriage or civil unions between people of the same sex, and criminalises gay clubs and events.

Reuben Abati, the presidential spokesman, said Nigerians were happy with the new law. It makes Nigeria the 38th African nation to enact legislation persecuting gay people.

“This is a law that is in line with the people's cultural and religious inclination,” Mr Abati said.

“More than 90 percent of us oppose same-sex marriage, so it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people. Nigerians are pleased with it.”

The country already has legislation outlawing homosexual sex, and few people in the country would want publicly to declare their love for someone of the same sex in a marriage ceremony for fear of violent persecution.

This has raised questions over the motivation. Some have suggested Nigeria’s new law and a proposed one in Uganda were a backlash to Western pressure for gay rights.

David Cameron pledged to cut British aid to countries that enacted new laws targeting homosexuals. In relation to the Nigerian law, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "The U.K. opposes any form of discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation."

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