An Islamic court in Bauchi, northern Nigeria on Thursday ordered four men to be flogged with horsewhips and fined after being convicted of homosexuality.
The four, aged between 22 and 28, were sentenced and received 15 lashes each in secret after a trial at the Upper Sharia Court in the Unguwar Jaki district of the city of Bauchi.
Court clerk Abdul Mohammed said the case was concluded behind closed doors for security reasons after an angry mob attacked the court during their trial, demanding they be executed and forcing the hearing to be suspended.
“The four… on trial were sentenced to 15 strokes and fined 20,000 naira ($125) by the court and the sentence was immediately carried out,” Mohammed said.
“The court session was kept secret from the public and the judgment given and executed before the news filtered into the city,” he said.
The court would adopt a similar strategy on three pending cases, he added.
The four were among seven defendants formally charged by the Bauchi State Sharia Commission on January 6 with belonging to a gay club and receiving $150,000 in donations from the United States for an apparent membership drive.
Four others were brought before a separate Islamic court on the same charges, while a Christian suspect was presented before a secular, state court.
The arrests and formal charges came days after it was confirmed that Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan had signed a bill into law banning gay marriage and same-sex unions.
The law, which carries a maximum 14-year prison term for anyone entering such unions and up to 10 years in jail for supporting gay groups and clubs, provoked international condemnation.
Many believed the arrests were spurred by the new legislation which reinforced existing laws criminalising homosexuality, giving the Sharia authorities federal backing to enforce anti-gay laws.
When the case resumed on January 23, a mob besieged the court and pelted the suspects with stones as they left to a waiting van to return to prison, leading to a running battle with the police who fired teargas to disperse the crowd.
The Islamic justice system, which runs parallel to state and federal courts in northern states, provides for death by stoning for sodomy once it is established by four witnesses to the act or by voluntary confession.
But judge El-Yakub Aliyu ruled that because the men were not caught in the act, there was no legal basis for passing the death sentence, despite confessions by two of the defendants.
“The judge said although two of the men admitted to having engaged in sodomy four years ago, there was no basis to give them the death sentence since they told the court they have repented and it would be unjustifiable to sentence them in retrospect,” said Mohammed.
The clerk said the sentence was passed as a discretionary “correctional punishment”.
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 support his education financially.