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This article first appeared in The Advocate.
Members of Islamic police enforcing sharia law in the northern Nigerian state of Kano arrested 19 men and women yesterday, accusing them of attending a same-sex marriage.
A spokesperson for the religious police, known locally at the hisbah, said they acted after receiving a tip about the alleged wedding. Same-sex sexual relations are illegal in the conservative African country, punishable with prison sentences of 10 to 14 years under state law, and by death under sharia religious law.
“Our men broke into the venue where a gay couple was holding a wedding and arrested 19 men and women, including the wedding planner,” Lawan Ibrahim Fagge told the Agence France Press in a statement.
Fagge told the BBC the hisbah would counsel the 15 men and four women and their families before deciding whether to hand them over to the country's police.
“We’ll explore the avenue of change before we charge them in court,” Fagge said. “First, we counsel them and involve the parents and we hope they change their lifestyle.”
Fagge also told the BBC that 18 people arrested by his group last year for allegedly attending a same-sex wedding ceremony were released after signing a pledge to “change their lifestyle.”
A 2004 report from Human Rights Watch said Nigerian hisbah are often compared to vigilante groups operating outside the secular legal system to enforce their version of Islamic law.
“In most northern states, hisbah and sharia implementation committees have been given the task of enforcing sharia and ensuring that the population observes it in their day-to-day activities,” HRW wrote in its report.
In 2018, 47 men in Lagos were arrested by the hisbah and accused of “being initiated into a gay club,” although the men claimed they were only attending a birthday party. A judge later threw out the case when prosecutors failed to produce any witnesses or show up at trial.
Earlier this year the Kano hisbah interviewed the parents of 2021 Miss Nigeria Shatu Garko, saying her participation in the pageant violated Islamic law. Garko refused to back down and carried out her duties despite the threat of arrest from the hisbah.
“No one can judge me or any other human being except God,” Garko told This Day Style. “Alhamdulillah, I was able to cope by blocking my ears and remaining true to myself and my originality.”
Fagge said the hisbah is still looking for the same-sex couple allegedly set to wed yesterday after the pair was able to escape before being detained.