Reports Of Arrests And Torture Under Nigeria's Anti-Gay Law

Under a shroud of secrecy, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on Jan. 7. In Nigeria, the law has become known by many as the "Jail the Gays" law. Melissa Block speaks with Michelle Faul, the Associated Press Chief Africa Correspondent, about the law's ramifications.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Human rights advocates in Nigeria are reporting that dozens of gay men have been arrested under a new law that makes homosexual clubs or associations illegal. That law also criminalizes same-sex marriage. Gay men who have been arrested have reportedly been tortured into giving up the names of others. Michelle Faul with the Associated Press has been writing about this and she joins us now from Lagos.

And Michelle, why don't you give us more details, what you've learned about these arrests and the reports of torture from human rights groups there.

MICHELLE FAUL: As we're speaking, Melissa, we're getting more reports in of more people being arrested in about six of Nigeria's 36 states. I've spoken with human rights activists here who say this has not just happened since the bill was signed into law, but since there's been noise about the bill. So the very idea of the bill has led to this persecution of people because of their sexual differences.

BLOCK: And in particular the reports of torture, what have you heard about that?

FAUL: That particular report comes from Bauchi State in the north of Nigeria, where it's almost a case of entrapment. A law enforcer pretending to be a gay man went to a meeting where an AIDS counselor was speaking to men, who have sex with men, about how they could do this safely. He pretended to be gay, got the names of a couple of people, arrested subsequently one person, used their cell phone - this is illegal in itself for him to go through this person cell phone, contact another gay person and another gay person. Called them for a meeting, arrest them, take them to the police station and beat them up repeatedly and brutally until they gave up 168 names of people who were supposed to be gay.

BLOCK: Michelle, let's talk more about this new law. You've got a copy of it: The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. And you write that it's been shrouded in secrecy. It was passed in December, signed by President Goodluck Jonathan this month without announcement. Why the secrecy?

FAUL: I don't know why the secrecy. I've heard suggestions; maybe they were hoping to do this without causing an international brouhaha. Well, we have international condemnation from around the world, today coming from Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, from the European Union, from Britain, the United States, Canada. Some of those countries have said that they will consider cutting aid or tying aid to how a country treats their gay community. I think what a lot of people are asking now is, having made these threats, what are they going to do.

BLOCK: The new law, Michelle, is called The Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. But homosexual sex was already illegal in Nigeria, right? It could bring a death sentence under Islamic or Shariah law in parts of the country.

FAUL: Exactly, there were no gay people in this country, you know, out on the streets waving banners saying: We want to get married. You know, going out in the streets saying you're gay can get you killed. You can just get lynched by a mob and beaten to death. So, you know, the question is why was this needed? And there are many answers. Some people think the issue of gay rights is being used as a political football.

Nigeria has many, many problems and the president, by signing this bill, can distract attention away from that and make many people happy.

BLOCK: Why don't you put this in some context, too, for the continent? Nigeria is not alone here. There are many, many other African countries that either outlaw homosexuality or persecute gay people, right?

FAUL: There are 39 African countries with laws against sodomy and homosexuality. And according to UNAIDS that is half of the countries in the world that criminalize homosexuality.

BLOCK: Michelle Faul is chief Africa correspondent with the Associated Press. She joined us from Lagos, Nigeria. Michelle, thanks so much.

FAUL: It's a pleasure, Melissa. Thank you.

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