Total Pageviews

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.

Republican Ideas on Immigration Could Legalize Up to 6.5 Million, Study Says

A Dream Action Coalition demonstration last month.Win McNamee/Getty Images A Dream Action Coalition demonstration last month.

Between 4.4 million and 6.5 million immigrants illegally in the United States could gain an eventual pathway to citizenship under proposals being discussed by Republicans in the House of Representatives, according to an estimate published Tuesday by the National Foundation for American Policy, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

The estimate is based on policy ideas that have been put forward by Representative Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, a Republican who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Goodlatte has said he would not support legislation with a “special” or direct pathway to citizenship for 11.5 million immigrants in the country without legal papers, such as the 13-year pathway in a broad bill the Senate passed last June.

House Republicans have rejected the sweeping approach of that bill and said they would handle immigration in smaller pieces. Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio has said that Mr. Goodlatte is preparing principles that will guide House action on this issue this year.

Mr. Goodlatte has said he would instead offer a provisional legal status to illegal immigrants, then allow those who can demonstrate they are eligible to apply for permanent residency â€" a document known as a green card â€" through the existing system, based on sponsorship by a family member or an employer. Obtaining a green card is the crucial step toward American citizenship.

The foundation’s report, prepared by Stuart Anderson, its executive director, finds that even without major changes to current immigration law, 3.1 million to 4.4 million immigrants now illegally in the United States would be eligible for green cards because they are parents of American citizens. As many as 600,000 could gain green cards as spouses of citizens and legal residents, and up to 45,000 could receive green cards within two decades as low-skilled workers.

The estimate assumes the House would pass legislation creating new green cards for young undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children, who call themselves Dreamers. Mr. Anderson calculates that 800,000 to 1.5 million of those immigrants would gain a pathway to citizenship.

Mr. Anderson’s calculation, based on figures from the Department of Homeland Security among other sources, is the first effort to put numbers on proposals emerging from House Republicans. On a conference call Tuesday with reporters, Mr. Anderson stressed that the estimates were imprecise because no Republican has so far offered a specific legalization bill.

Under the foundation’s projection, at least two million immigrants would have to wait a long time â€" as much as two decades â€" before they could apply for naturalization. As many as five million immigrants would remain here with legal status but no prospect of becoming citizens.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that eight million illegal immigrants would gain a pathway to citizenship under the Senate bill. Many Democrats and immigrant advocates have rejected any legislation that excludes large groups of residents from citizenship.

Tamar Jacoby, a Republican who is president of ImmigrationWorks USA, a small-business organization that supports an overhaul of immigration laws, said on Tuesday that proposals for a bill with no separate path to citizenship for most illegal immigrants were gaining ground among House Republicans, as the basis for negotiations with the Senate. She said Mr. Anderson’s estimates were higher than many immigration analysts have predicted.

“The half a loaf is more substantial than many people would have thought,” she said.

Representative Robert W. Goodlatte in his Washington office.Christopher Gregory for The New York Times Representative Robert W. Goodlatte in his Washington office.

Thailand Protests Are Captured in Social Media and Onstage

Drone video footage from Monday of a major intersection blocked by protesters and of the surrounding boulevards.

In the boldest move in two months of demonstrations against the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Bangkok’s central commercial district has been swarmed by antigovernment protesters, and on Tuesday, the second day of the so-called “shutdown” of the city and its consequences were widely tracked on social media.

Along with noisy, whistle-blowing protesters at the gatherings, Bangkok residents and others using #BangkokShutdown shared images of an unusual sight: relatively empty streets as traffic was diverted, or as drivers simply kept away. There were also reports of a brief, late night eruption of gunfire near a hotel popular with tourists, and an impromptu interview of an antigovernment protest speaker onstage.

As my colleague Thomas Fuller reported earlier this week, among the most popular pictures posted on social media sites are images of empty boulevards in Bangkok that on a normal day would be filled with vehicles. Richard Barrow, a travel blogger, has been tracking the social media postings in English and in Thai, sharing them on his Twitter account.

Late on Tuesday, Mr. Barrow posted reports of the sound of gunfire near a hotel, and the sound of an explosion near the home of a former prime minister.

Like many of Thailand’s media and journalists based in the country, Humphrey Cheung, a freelance cameraman, uses drone-like remotely controlled cameras to cover the demonstrations, providing a bird’s-eye view of the unrest in recent months, a handy reporting tool when protesters, who oppose elections scheduled for Feb. 2 and accuse government leaders of corruption, have blocked access to government and public buildings.

Mr. Cheung, who posts his footage on the YouTube account called routergods, showed further examples, such as this video of protesters at Asok intersection and another one on Tuesday of a train station in the central business district.

Additional drone footage of the Asok intersection protest.
Traffic was redirected away from the district area, as this drone footage shows.
An early-morning empty street near the Skytrain station in Bangkok on Tuesday.

Rajprasong is another of the seven city crossroads taken over by the antigovernment protesters, as John Sparks, a Channel 4 news correspondent, described in a blog post and video from the site.

In an unexpected and spontaneous portrayal of the protesters’ viewpoint, Mr. Sparks said he had been standing on the side of a stage when a protest speaker who had been addressing the crowd suddenly turned to him:

While we were filming, a flamboyant speaker called Dr Seri Wongmontha was busy whipping up the crowd - the sleeves of his flowing silk jacket of turquoise and pink, flying in the wind.

“We cannot stand what Yingluck Shinawatra has done to our country,” he said before glancing over to me in the corner.

“You want an interview,” he asked with microphone in hand. I responded in the affirmative, thinking that we would catch him off-stage after his performance. But I was mistaken.

Dr Seri, a Thai television celebrity, political columnist and judge of this country’s annual cross-dresser beauty contest, had other plans.

What followed was a live, onstage dual in front of thousands of protesters.

As Mr. Sparks mentioned, the antigovernment protesters accuse the prime minister and her billionaire brother, Thaksin, of running the nation for their own personal benefit. But when he pointed out to Dr. Seri that there were allegations of corruption and vote-buying among leaders of the protest movement itself, Mr. Seri replied in part that the people “tolerate” some greed but Thaksin went “overboard.”

A Channel 4 News reporter interviewing a protest speaker onstage on Tuesday in Bangkok.

Meanwhile, large crowds have gathered in several cities north of Bangkok to hold candlelight vigils in support of elections, under the social media campaign using #RespectMyVote.

Mr. Barrow, the travel blogger, shared several images of those vigils as well.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.