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A federal judge in Nigeria "struck out" charges of homosexuality against 47 men arrested after attending a 2018 party, according to Reuters and Al Jazeera.
Nigerian law bans same-sex marriage and same-sex "amorous relationships," punishable by up to 14 years in prison. The men were facing charges related to public displays of affection, which carries a 10 year prison sentence.
The 47 men were arrested back in 2018 during a police raid on a Lagos hotel. Police said the men were "being initiated into a gay club," but the men say they were there attending a birthday party. The case has been seen as a test case of the Nigerian law, which would help establish what the burden of proof would be in similar arrests.
Prosecutors for the case said that they had several witnesses, but they had failed to produce those witnesses in previous hearings, and failed to attend Tuesday's hearing at the federal high court. After repeatedly failing to present evidence, Justice Rilwan Aikawa struck out the case due to "lack of diligent prosecution."
The case has been struck out, not dismissed, which means that under Nigerian law, the defendants could still be re-arrested and arraigned again on the same charges. This makes many of the defendants nervous.
"I am not happy, because I'm looking for the matter to end in a way that people will see me and believe what I have been saying from the beginning," siad Onyeka Oguaghamba, a taxi driver who said he was driving people to the party, not participating. Chris Agiriga, another defendant, said that just striking out the case won't get rid of the stigma associated with the arrest like a dismissal would. "Since the past two years," he said, "this has caused a lot of damage in my life."
Emmanuel Sadi, with the Initiative for Equal Rights, said that the case should show the government that these kinds of laws cannot be enforced. "You can't even build a case around it," he said, "I hope they realize how redundant it is as a law, and they are open to removing or repealing it."
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