Nigeria police made mass arrests last weekend at an event they claimed was a “gay wedding”.
News articles gave widely varied accounts of the number of people arrested.
- More than 200 (CNN and The Daily Beast)
- More than 100 (The Independent and Premium Times Nigeria)
- 100 people (BBC)
- 67 people (Reuters)
- “At least 67 people” (Associated Press)
- More than 60 (NBC News and Al Jazeera)
- “Dozens” (New York Times)
According to the Associated Press, police said they arrested 200 people, released 133 and detained 67. No formal charges were reported.
The “gay suspects” were arrested in southern Delta state’s Ekpan town at about 2 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 28, at an event where police said that two of them were married, state police spokesman Bright Edafe told reporters.
Several arrestees denied attending a same-sex wedding. The event at the hotel that night was just a party or a fashion show, some detainees said.
Police paraded the arrestees before the public and broadcast the event. During that display, “one of those arrested said they were not attending the wedding ceremony and were at the hotel for another engagement”, AP reported. “Another suspect said he does not identify as a gay person and was arrested while on his way to a fashion show.”
Nigeria’s Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act (SSMPA), enacted in 2014, provides for a 14-year prison sentence for same-sex intercourse and for anyone entering into a same-sex marriage. It calls for a 10-year prison sentence for anyone who attends a gay wedding.
The human rights and health advocacy organization Equality Triangle Initiative (ETI) reported on Facebook on Monday:
“Presently, no formal charges have been filed against those detained. We have been informed that the processing of bail applications has been temporarily suspended pending the arrival of officials from the state police headquarters.
“In response to this situation, we want to assure everyone that we have taken several steps to address the needs of those affected. We have engaged a lawyer who is currently stationed at the police station to ensure that all legal rights of the detainees are upheld and to provide updates on any new developments. Additionally, we have provided meals for those in detention to ensure their sustenance while awaiting further action.”
Activists have in the past accused the Nigerian police of using the SSMPA to carry out mass arrests that sometimes include straight people, including in 2017 when more than 40 people were arrested for allegedly being gay, AP said.
Often the police make a public display of arresting LGBTQ Nigerians, then fail to pursue the cases diligently in court.
The Nigerian government put the law to the test in December 2019 when 47 men who had been arrested by police in a hotel in Lagos were arraigned in court, accused of publicly displaying affection for members of the same sex.
All 47 men pleaded not guilty and were granted bail by the court. A federal judge later struck out the charges against the men because of a “lack of diligent prosecution” by the police.