Two Islamic courts in Bauchi, northern Nigeria have been forced to suspend the trials of 10 men accused of homosexuality because of fears of mob violence, judges and officials have said.
An angry crowd last week pelted stones at seven men suspected of breaking Islamic law banning homosexuality after their hearing was adjourned at the Unguwar Jaki Upper Sharia Court in Bauchi.
Police were forced to use teargas and fire shots in the air to disperse the mob, who were demanding summary trial and execution for the defendants.
The seven had been due to reappear before the same court on Tuesday.
But registrar Isa Bununu told AFP: “We can’t continue with the trial in view of the security breach we had during the last court session.
“The court will have to suspend the trial pending the review of the security situation with relevant authorities to avoid a repeat of the mob action we saw last week.”
Nigeria banned same-sex marriage and civil unions earlier this month in a move that won widespread support in the religiously conservative country but triggered international outrage.
Homosexuality was already banned under sharia Islamic law, which exists alongside state and federal laws in the majority Muslim north of Nigeria and carries the death sentence.
A separate trial of three other suspects at another sharia court in the Tudun Alkali area of the city was also put on hold.
All 10 defendants were arrested on suspicion of belonging to a gay club.
“The trial has been suspended because of the stoning incident in the other court, which we are trying to avoid here”, said judge Nuhu Mohammed Dumi.
“The remand notice for the suspects expired today (Tuesday) but we will have to extend it.”
Dumi suggested that the new trial date would not be publicised and the suspects brought to court in secret to avoid unrest.
Lawyer Suleiman Musa, defending the three, has objected to his clients’ continued detention but Dumi said the decision was for their own safety.
“The families of the three suspects… came to me requesting bail and I told them that it was in their interests to stay in prison because they risk losing their lives at the hands of an angry mob if they are released on bail,” he said.
“They realised the danger.”
Tuesday’s aborted hearings left the Unguwar Jaki court almost empty apart from a few support staff and two litigants in a separate case waiting for the judge.
Rows of brown benches face the judge’s desk, behind which a copy of the Koran in a sheepskin bag for oath-taking and a horsewhip for flogging convicted criminals hang on the wall.
Men and women are usually seated separately.
Sharia proceedings are considered quicker, simpler and more straight-forward than secular courts as well as cheaper. They normally deal with marital, inheritance and financial disputes.
Civil cases are resolved by either testimony of witnesses, valid documents, confession or by swearing an oath on the Koran.
To be proven, the charge of sodomy, like adultery, requires the testimony of three reliable witnesses or a voluntary confession.
But the death sentence is rarely, if ever, carried out.
Dumi last week dismissed the testimony of a prosecution witness against two men accused of being gay lovers because they had not been caught “in the act”.
On January 16, however, he sentenced a 20-year-old man to 20 lashes in public and ordered him to pay a 5,000 naira ($30) fine for breaking the law on homosexuality.