The authorities in Nigeria have arrested and charged 53 people for attending and participating in a gay wedding.
The accused persons were arrested on Saturday, April 15th, in Kaduna, northwest Nigeria, according to Premium Times.
Prosecutors say the charges included conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and belonging to a gang of unlawful society.
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On Wednesday, the group was brought before a Magistrate Court in Chediya-Zaria, Kaduna State, where they pleaded not guilty.
Homosexuality and other same-sex relations are largely frowned upon in Africa, and it is a criminal offense in Nigeria.
Lead prosecutor Mannir Nasir said the arrested persons were guilty of contravening Sections 97, 100, and 197(a) of criminal procedure code. He added that officers moved in to arrest the group after a tip-off indicated that a gay marriage was taking place between Faruk and Sanusi at a motel in Zaria.
Yunusa Umar, a lawyer representing the accused, said the defendants — many of them students — had been held in police detention beyond the maximum 24-hour period.
The presiding magistrate reportedly granted the accused bail with the sum of N500,000 each, with one surety each in the like sum who must be a blood relation to the accused.
He also ordered that each surety must present two passport size photographs, a valid identity card, bank account number, letter of credence from a traditional ruler, a 2015 utility bill, and a valid mobile phone number.
The case has been adjourned until May 8th for further hearing.
In 2014, then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill criminalizing same-sex relationships, which prescribes penalties of up to 14 years in jail for offenders.
The law also stipulates that “any person who registers, operates, or participates in gay clubs, societies, and organisations or directly or indirectly makes public show of same-sex amorous relationship in Nigeria commits an offence and shall each be liable on conviction to a term of 10 years in prison.”
Activists and rights groups say the Nigerian law is an affront to human liberty, the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.
They say besides the lengthy prison sentences gay persons face for their sexual orientations, there is also the more insidious risk of a public lynching by irate mobs on anyone suspected of having same-sex sympathies while the authorities stand aside and watch.