Activists in Nigeria have condemned the death sentences handed down by an Islamic court to three men for homosexual acts. The verdict in Nigeria’s northern state of Bauchi was the latest in a series of controversial death sentences by sharia courts.
In a ruling last week, Judge Munka’ilu Sabo Ningi sentenced three men to death by stoning on charges of homosexuality.
The men are between the ages of 20, 30 and 70 and were arrested on June 14. They were not represented by a lawyer in court before pleading guilty to the charges against them.
The ruling drew criticism from LGBTQ and human rights activists.
One activist, Kayode Somtochukwu Ani, said he feared the sentencing could provoke a backlash against homosexuals in northern Nigeria.
“We introduced this crossover bill in April, and now we have three people sentenced to death by stoning in 2022,” Ani said. “It gets out of hand, the fear that people in the north of LGBTQ have to live in right now.”
Ani, who heads the Queer Union for Economic and Social Transformation (QUEST), said activists could not reach the men and help them appeal against the case. They have 30 days from the day of sentencing to do so.
Nigeria’s northern Bauchi state is one of 12 where Sharia law is being complied with. But state authorities must approve the death sentence before the men are executed.
Government spokesman Muktar Gidado did not respond to requests for comment on the matter, but a local journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told VOA that authorities had avoided the subject.
He also said media organizations in the north would not report on the subject.
“Because of religion and culture, that one is a no-go area,” the journalist said. “The state government will be very careful about that issue, because election is coming and anything that will dull their image, they will be careful.”
In 2020, a Sharia court in the state of Kano issued a death sentence, this time to a Nigerian singer convicted of blasphemy. The defendant asked an appellate court to ignore the decision and declare the ruling of the Sharia court unconstitutional.
Lakin Akintola, head of the advocacy group Muslim Rights Concerns, said that although Sharia is not widely accepted elsewhere in Nigeria, he supports the Bauchi court’s ruling.
“Why don’t you allow the Muslims to live their lives?” Akintola said: “If others want to continue to destroy civilization, they are free to do so, but shouting allows Muslims to be Muslims.”
Another activist, lawyer Martin Obono, is demanding self-restraint.
“Nigeria is a secular state and people have the rights to express themselves,” Obono said. “I think it’s essential to go back to the drawing board and review the laws, and that will also help us create a society of tolerance.”
In Nigeria, homosexuality is widely regarded as a Western import. Nigerian law punishes gay relationships with up to 14 years in prison.