Local authorities use a whisper campaign to round up gay men in northern Nigeria

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. With the Winter Olympics now on, Russia's controversial anti-gay law will continue getting a lot of attention. But just over a month ago, an even harsher anti-gay law went into effect in Nigeria. Same sex relations were already illegal there, but the new law bans public displays of affection between people of the same sex. It also outlaws any group involved in what officials deem to be "gay issues", including HIV and AIDS prevention.

The BBC's Will Ross is based in Nigeria. He recently visited a state in the northern part of the country that is using local citizens to round up those it suspects of being gay. So Will, you went to Bauchi state. How have authorities been trying to enact the law there?

Will Ross: Basically in Bauchi state they've got Islamic Law, Sharia Law. It's in the predominantly Muslim north of the country where many of the states practice Sharia Law. What's been happening over the last few weeks is a newspaper, a local newspaper last year, published an article which said that gay people in Bauchi had formed an association and there was a list of names there.

Now the Sharia Commission thought it right to go after these people. They didn't manage to get any of them, so they then turned to imams in the mosques, in the churches. The message was put out, which said basically to go out into the communities and look for these gay people and hand them over to us. Literally going house to house, picking them up and then taking them to the Sharia Commission.

There are currently 9 people in the prison there in Bauchi up on homosexuality charges. It's worth mentioning that under Sharia Law, the penalty for anybody caught having gay sex is a death sentence and although a death sentence hasn't been carried out yet in the north of Nigeria for any crimes, death sentences have been passed but not carried out. The Sharia Commission officials that I spoke to there said to me that it's either death by stoning, pushing off a high building, or hanging.

Werman: Gosh. I mean, it's weird that I have to say "alleged crime" but these 9 people, the crime that they are alleged to have committed is being homosexual. Were they turned in by neighbors or acquaintances?

Ross: That's exactly it. Neighbors set upon them and the feeling - I went around talking to people, gauging the opinion, what people think about the whole issue of homosexuality - everybody I spoke to either quoted the Bible or quoted the Quran and said that they're totally against homosexuality, they want all of the homosexuals to be arrested. I didn't hear anybody who had a sympathetic word to say or anybody who was willing to defend them and say that it's their right.

Just last month on the 22nd of January when there was a bail hearing for 7 of the accused, a large mob assembled outside of the Sharia Court, which is a pretty ramshackle tin roof building right in the middle of Bauchi city and they started shouting and protesting and calling for swift justice. Some of them were even calling for that death sentence. Rocks were thrown at the court. One even went through the courtroom window and hit somebody, drawing blood from somebody who was actually in the court. In the end, the whole case had to be halted. The police had to fire into the air to disperse the crowd and get the accused, the 9 men, safely back to the prison.

But as I say, they're not, it seems, safe in the prison. The people who are trying to get them out on bail say that if they do get them out on bail, they'll either flee that part of the country or go into hiding because of this feverish anti-homosexual drive that's going in Bauchi at the moment.

Werman: The BBC's Will Ross reporting from Nigeria. Thank you very much Will.

Ross: You're welcome.

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