53 in court for attending gay marriage

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Despite the harsh laws, many gay couples hold informal ceremonies with their loved ones.

Homosexual acts are banned in socially conservative Nigeria and are punishable by up to 14 years in jail.

"Information reached the police that these group of persons conspired to celebrate a gay marriage at Zaria Motel between one Faruk and Sanusi both at large", the prosecutor said.

Kenyan gay and lesbian organisations demonstrate outside the Nigerian High Commission in Nairobi on February 7, 2014.

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But a human rights activist in Kaduna with knowledge of the event tells Newsweek that the gathering was actually a birthday party and there was no same-sex marriage.

In all 53 people, mostly male students, were charged on Saturday with conspiracy, unlawful assembly, and "belonging to a gang of unlawful society".

"The police are using the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act as an excuse for mass arrests, maybe even as a way to get bribes".

Bisi Alimi, a Nigerian LGBT rights activist based in the United Kingdom, tells Newsweek that the men are being "blackmailed" by police.

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There is a strong social taboo around homosexuality in Nigeria, driven by a strong anti-LGBT evangelical Christian movement in the south and the spread of hardline Islam in the north.

According to Nasir, "on April 15, at about 9p.m., a team of policemen, led by DSP Muhammad Lawal-Mashi, arrested and brought to the police station 53 persons".

In 2014, then-President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) into law.

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