Two Islamic courts in northern Nigeria have secretly released on bail seven men on trial for allegedly breaking the law on homosexuality, a prison official and a court clerk said on Friday.
The seven were among a dozen men formally charged by the Bauchi State Sharia Commission on January 6 with belonging to a gay club and having received funding from the United States for an apparent membership drive.
Four others were convicted on March 6, fined 20,000 naira ($125/88 euros) each and given 15 lashes with a horse whip as what the judge termed a discretionary “correctional punishment”.
A Christian suspect is having his case heard before a secular court.
Homosexuality is banned under Islamic law, which is in force alongside state and federal justice systems in mainly Muslim northern Nigeria.
The men’s cases came to light just as President Goodluck Jonathan approved a new law banning gay marriage and civil partnerships that won support at home but was strongly criticised in the West.
An official at the Bauchi central prison, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, said the remaining seven men were no longer in custody.
“The courts wrote to us on March 11 confirming the suspects have been granted bail and we promptly released them,” he added.
A clerk at the Upper Sharia Court in the Unguwar Jaki district of Bauchi, which is hearing one of the cases, confirmed the release of three of the men.
“The court granted bail to the three remaining suspects at the last trial session on March 11, pending the determination of their cases,” said Abdul Mohammed.
“The judge’s decision to grant them bail was borne out of the fact that none of the accused was caught in the act, which is an indispensable condition to warrant death sentence…
“That means they would not get the death penalty at the end.”
The other four men are on trial at Tudun Alkali Upper Sharia Court, also in Bauchi.
The men’s cases have been heard in secret after an angry mob pelted the defendants with stones after a hearing on January 23, demanding their immediate execution.
Police had to break up the riot with tear gas.
“Since the mob action on January 23, the sodomy trials have been going on in secret in another location and the trial dates are never made public,” said Mohammed.
Sharia law provides for death by stoning for sodomy once it is established by four witnesses to the act or by voluntary confession.
A 20-year-old man was flogged in public and fined 5,000 naira on January 16 after being convicted of homosexuality.
He claimed he had been “deceived into sodomy” by a school teacher who had promised to fund his education.