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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Dozens Reportedly Arrested in Nigeria Amid Antigay Crackdown

Bisi Alimi, known as the first gay Nigerian to come out on national television, told his story in a video posted to YouTube by None on Record, an African L.G.B.T. media project. After his disclosure, Mr. Alimi was beaten inside his home and fled to Britain.

Homosexual sex is illegal in Nigeria, where in some states ruled by Islamic law gay people can be legally stoned to death. Still, the government in recent weeks has decided to crack down on gay Nigerians both harshly and in secret, arresting dozens of suspected gay men in the country’s north and signing into law a sweeping measure that punishes gay marriage and even the formation of gay associations or clubs with as many as 14 years in prison.

News of the country’s strict new antigay law, called the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, was reported on Monday by The Associated Press, which said that its passage had been “shrouded in secrecy.” A copy of the law obtained by The A.P. was signed and dated by President Goodluck Jonathan on Jan. 7 and had been signed and dated by lawmakers nearly a month earlier, on Dec. 17. Neither the president’s office nor the National Assembly was known to be considering the measure, and neither made an announcement to mark its passage.

On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that the police in the northern state of Bauchi had arrested 38 suspected gay men since Dec. 25. The report said the police appeared to be working from a list of 168 suspects whose names they obtained after they reportedly entrapped and arrested four gay men several weeks earlier and tortured them into naming other gay people they knew in the area. The report was attributed to two human rights organizations in the state as well as the government body that implements Islamic law in the area, which said that 11 arrests had been made in the last two weeks but denied the use of torture.

Dorothy Aken’Ova, the executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, who was quoted in The Associated Press article on the arrests in Bauchi, described the campaign of entrapment and arrest in an interview with the English-language service of Radio France International on Tuesday. She accused the police in the state of entrapping gay men and then holding out the empty promise of release from prison to extort money from their family and friends. “Even after having extorted them, they have not released the people,” she said.

President Jonathan has not publicly expressed his opinions on homosexuality, according to The Associated Press, but a spokesman, Reuben Abati, said that he had heard of no Nigerian objection to a law that he described as “in line with the people’s cultural and religious inclination. So it is a law that is a reflection of the beliefs and orientation of Nigerian people.”

Online, some Nigerians expressed support for the measure, citing religious conviction that homosexuality is “wrong” or “Satanic” or, in an echo of claims once made by the former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the belief that gay people are just not part of Nigeria.

But supporters of the law were not the only ones expressing themselves on social media, where gay Nigerians and their supporters were expressing concern and outrage within the relative safety of the Internet.

One of the most outspoken appeared to be Bisi Alimi, a gay rights activist who became well known in Nigeria in 2004 when he came out on national television, an episode he described in a video produced by None on Record, a media project devoted to addressing issues of relevance to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Africans. The live talk show on which Mr. Alimi appeared was canceled after his announcement, and he eventually fled to Britain after facing a violent attack in his home. In a series of updates posted to Twitter, Mr. Alimi reacted with alarm to the news of the law and reports of arrests in the country’s north.

In Nigeria and across Africa, Twitter users joined Mr. Alimi in criticizing the Nigerian government’s burgeoning antigay crackdown, with some attacking President Jonathan for focusing on stopping gay marriage â€" a political impossibility in Nigeria â€" instead of tackling more pressing problems like poverty and underdevelopment.