Just one day after Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed that he'd signed a new law criminalizing same-sex unions and all LGBT organizations in the country, police in the northern region of the country arrested dozens of men simply for being gay. The reported 38 arrestees were on a list of 168 wanted gay men in the Bauchi state. According to human rights activists working in the country, police allegedly drew up the list by torturing four gay men into naming others.
The report from the Associated Press outlining those allegations notes that a spokesperson for Bauchi's Shariah Commission confirmed the arrest of 11 men on suspicion of "belonging to a gay organization," but denies that any of the men were tortured for more names. Two human rights activists speaking to the AP, however, say that the actual number of arrestees is higher, and that more will almost certainly follow. The arrests seem to be prompted by a false rumor in the country that the U.S. government gave $20 million to gay activists in the region to promote gay marriage.
Nigeria already had laws on the books criminalizing gay sex, but the new restrictions make it easier for Nigerian officials to silence individuals and organizations working to change the country's record on LGBT discrimination. That discrimination is not unique to Bauchi, one of nine states in the country governed by some degree of Islamic law. Anti-gay attitudes are widespread among the country's entire population, divided almost equally between Muslim and Christian adherents. In total, about 97 percent of Nigerians believe society should reject homosexuality. Reflecting the popularity of anti-gay beliefs there, LGBT individuals in the country have long faced discrimination and harassment. That stigma extends to Nigerians living with HIV and AIDS.
As Right Wing Watch reminded its readers on Tuesday, the support for Nigeria's "jail the gays" bill doesn't stop at the country's borders. A number of American activists have supported the country's restrictive laws, comparing them favorably to the U.S.'s own laws governing LGBT equality. The Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute, for instance, wrote in 2011 that the latest Nigerian anti-gay measures (then being debated as a bill in the country's legislature) would "protect marriage." Other American activists who have voiced support for some iteration of Nigeria's anti-gay legislation include Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber, Pat Roberson, MassResistance , and Family Watch International’s Sharon Slater.