BAUCHI, Nigeria — An Islamic court in northern Nigeria has convicted one man and sentenced him to 20 lashes for having sex with another man, and 10 Muslim men could face death by stoning if also convicted of the crime of homosexuality.
Mubarak Ibrahim, 28, was ordered to lie on a bench while the 20 lashes were administered in front of a packed courtroom.
He said he was misled into the act of sodomy by the principal of the high school he was attending and has not committed a homosexual act since.
Judge Nuhu Mohammed said spared Ibrahim the sentence of death by stoning because the crime occurred so many years ago and because the young man had shown “great remorse.”
Ibrahim also was ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 naira ($30). It was not immediately clear if he had been able to pay and go free.
Though Ibrahim was found guilty under Shariah law, it is the first conviction of a gay man in Nigeria since President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that further criminalizes homosexuality under the West African nation’s Western-style penal code.
Activists believe the new law has whipped up homophobia and endangers gay people in a country where lynchings and mob justice are common.
But the Muslim Rights Concern group on Thursday said it was “the other way round as the practice of homosexualism and lesbianism is most capable of instigating widespread hatred and turning society upside down.”
It praised Jonathan for resisting pressures from Western powers that have condemned the law and urged them to stop what it called meddling in Nigerian internal affairs. “Most reprehensible is the attempt by foreign power s to intimidate and coerce Nigeria into absorbing their despicable culture by threatening to withhold foreign aid,” it said.
Ibrahim was among 12 men – 11 Muslims and one Christian – who have been arrested by police since Christmas for belonging to a gay club.
Dorothy Aken’Ova, a human rights activist whose organization is helping with lawyers, said police had lured four of the men, then tortured them into providing a list of 168 wanted gay men.
Shariah Commission chairman Mustapha Baba Ilela has denied any of those arrested were tortured. He told The Associated Press that police were hunting for other members of a gay club, but would not say how many.
Jibrin Danlami Hassan, the commissioner of Bauchi state’s Sharia Commission, said residents of Bauchi city arrested the local men.
They were handed to the Islamic police force, which interrogated them, he said.
“They accept that they are doing that dirty game,” Hassan told the BBC.
The Muslim men, accused of violating Islamic law because the are gay, could be sentenced to death by stoning if found guilty. Their trial has been adjourned until Jan. 23.
The Christian man is to be tried under Nigeria’s federal civil law that includes the recently enacted anti-gay bill; he could face a maximum penalty of 14-years imprisonment.
Same-sex acts are illegal in the federal system of Nigeria, but are punished in different states in varying degrees of severity. The federal civil law punishes gay sex with 14 years imprisonment, but twelve of the northern states operate Islamic Sharia law that includes punishments such as flogging and death by stoning.
Nigerian gay rights advocate Davis Mac-Iyalla told LGBTQ Nation that the new federal law “has initiated a beginning of legally sanctioned persecution and witch-hunt towards Nigeria’s LGBT community.”
Mac-Iyalla said that historically, northern states of Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi, Niger, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara have rarely applied Sharia law towards LGBT people, but the new law is being interpreted as giving a license to do so.
“The situation throughout Nigeria is worsening by the day. I’ve just been contacted by two brothers in their 30s who have went into hiding in Lagos,” he said. “Vigilante groups are hunting them down, asking for huge ransoms.”
“Nigeria is now legally sanctioning and its laws are encouraging persecution by both the state and its citizens against LGBT people,” said Mac-Iyalla.