BAUCHI, Nigeria (AP) — Thousands of protesters threw stones into the Shariah court in a north Nigerian city Wednesday, urging the speedy convictions and executions of 11 men arrested for belonging to gay organizations.
Security officials fired into the air to disperse protesters in Bauchi city so the accused men could be safely returned to the prison. Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu closed the court abruptly.
"No one can be sentenced to death until confirmed without a reasonable doubt," Aliyu said in response to calls for the men's execution.
The court was arraigning seven of 11 accused men on Wednesday. Only three had given testimony when the mayhem began.
The defense counsel was unable to submit an application for bail, and the rest of the defendants were unable to give testimony. It was unclear when the arraignments would resume.
The same court last week convicted a young man of sodomy and had him publicly whipped with 20 lashes, and fined before being freed. The court said it was lenient, sparing him the sentence of death by stoning, as he had confessed to one instance of sodomy many years ago and had not committed any homosexual acts since.
Though he was tried under Islamic law, his was the first conviction of a gay man in Nigeria since the president signed a bill that further criminalizes homosexuality under the penal code. He was among 12 arrested in Bauchi the past few weeks.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that President Goodluck Jonathan signed on Jan. 7 has resulted in a frenzy of arrests of gays. The law bans all gay associations, with penalties up to 14 years' imprisonment for marriage.
Bauchi state has both a Western-style penal code and Shariah, or Islamic law, in which sodomy can carry the death sentence with a judge deciding whether it should be done by a public stoning or by lethal injection. Shariah law is implemented to different degrees in nine of Nigeria's 36 states. About half of the country's more than 160 million people are Muslims, the other half Christians.
The law has earned international condemnation.