July 15th 2021 | USCIRF

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today denounced the arrest of five men suspected of engaging in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex (LGBTI) activity in northern Nigeria. Kano state’s Hisbah Board, which enforces an official government interpretation of Shari’a law and has limited powers, conducted the arrest.

“Kano authorities remain some of the most problematic violators of religious freedom in Nigeria,” said USCIRF Chair Nadine Maenza. “The U.S. government needs to develop an engagement strategy to address these violations at the state level, including engaging diplomatically with Kano state officials to advocate for stronger religious freedom protections and enacting targeted sanctions where necessary.”

Kano’s religious Shari’a code punishes individuals convicted of LGBTI activity with lashings, prison time, or death by stoning, although there are no known cases of the latter. Hisbah brigades are state-sanctioned entities responsible for enforcing Shari’a law, which includes imposing religious precepts on the broader society regardless of individual beliefs. A 2019 USCIRF report found evidence that Hisbah brigades in Kano state also discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and Shi’a Muslims.

Kano authorities have a track record of infringing on citizens’ rights to freedom of religion or belief, such as the continued detainment of humanist activist Mubarak Bala without charge despite a federal court order for his release. The Kano government has also detained several individuals on blasphemy charges, including Yahaya Sharif Aminu, a 23-year-old Muslim gospel musician accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad in a private social media message. USCIRF advocates for both Mr. Bala and Mr. Sharif Aminu through its Religious Prisoners of Conscience (RPOC) project.

“A recent USCIRF report found that imposing harsh penalties for LGBTI activity justified by interpretations of Shari’a violates the right to freedom of religion or belief,” said USCIRF Commissioner Frederick A. Davie. “Nigerians have the right to hold and follow diverse views on religious precepts, including regarding sexuality, without government interference and violence. These men should be released immediately and unconditionally.”

In its 2021 Annual Report, USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State redesignate Nigeria as a “country of particular concern,” or CPC, for engaging in and tolerating ongoing, systematic, and egregious violations of international religious freedom. The State Department designated Nigeria as a CPC for the first time in December 2020. Additionally, USCIRF has produced recent analyses on the Enforcement of Blasphemy Laws around the world, Shari’a Law in Northern Nigeria, and the Use of Shari’a as Religious Justification for Capital Punishment against LGBTI Persons.