A court in Nigeria is trying a group of up to 54 people on charges of attending a party celebrating a same-sex marriage.
The accused, most of whom are believed to be students, were arrested on 15 April in a raid on a motel in the city of Zaria, in the northern state of Kaduna.
They have been charged with conspiracy, unlawful assembly and belonging to a gang of unlawful society.
According to Reuters, the group’s lawyer, Kimi Appah, claims that there was no wedding or marriage and that the party was simply a birthday celebration.
“Police got wind of it, arrested them and made trumped up charges that they are trying to celebrate a gay marriage,” he told the court.
Reuters said that only three of the 54 accused, who were earlier granted bail, appeared in court on Monday. This included the man whose birthday party Appah claims it was.
Nigeria’s Daily Post, however, said that 53 people were charged and that eight men had appeared in court. It reported that the rest had “jumped bail”.
Chief Magistrate Auwal Musa-Aliyu ordered the arrest of those who failed to appear in court. The case is set to resume on 31 May.
Gay sex is illegal in Nigeria, with penalties including 14 years in prison. Twelve northern states operate under Islamic Sharia law that allows homosexuality to be punished with death by stoning.
The Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, enacted in 2014, outlaws gay marriage and any kind of same-sex relationship with 14 years’ imprisonment. The law also punishes establishing, supporting and participating in gay organisations and clubs as well as public displays of same-sex affection with 10 years in prison.
Human Rights Watch has reported that the law has led to an increase in extortion and violence against LGBT people and has also imposed restrictions on nongovernmental organisations providing essential services to LGBT people in Nigeria.