A young man convicted of sodomy was whipped 20 times Thursday in a northern Nigerian Shariah court.
Though Mubarak Ibrahim was found guilty under Shariah law, it is the first conviction of a gay man in Nigeria since President Goodluck Jonathan signed a bill that further criminalizes homosexuality under the West African nation's Western-style penal code.
Activists believe the new law has whipped up homophobia and endangers gay people in a country where lynchings and mob justice are common.
But the Muslim Rights Concern group on Thursday said it was "the other way round as the practice of homosexualism and lesbianism is most capable of instigating widespread hatred and turning society upside down."
It praised Jonathan for resisting pressures from Western powers that have condemned the law and urged them to stop what it called meddling in Nigerian internal affairs. "Most reprehensible is the attempt by foreign powers to intimidate and coerce Nigeria into absorbing their despicable culture by threatening to withhold foreign aid," it said.
In the city of Bauchi, 28-year-old Ibrahim, an unemployed artisan, pleaded guilty to committing one act of sodomy seven years ago. He said he was misled into the act by the principal of the high school he was attending and has not committed a homosexual act since.
Judge Nuhu Mohammed said he would spare Ibrahim the sentence of death by stoning because the crime occurred so many years ago and because the young man had shown "great remorse."
The 20 lashes were administered in the public court. Ibrahim also was ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 naira (about $30 US). It was not immediately clear if he had been able to pay and go free.
He was among 12 men — 11 Muslims and one Christian — who have been arrested by police since Christmas for belonging to a gay club.
Dorothy Aken'Ova, a human rights activist whose organization is helping with lawyers, said police had lured four of the men, then tortured them into providing a list of 168 wanted gay men.
Shariah Commission chairman Mustapha Baba Ilela has denied any of those arrested were tortured. He told The Associated Press that police were hunting for other members of a gay club, but would not say how many.
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that Jonathan signed on Jan. 7 brought widespread condemnation from abroad — including the United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and the United Nations.
The UNAIDS agency says the law could criminalize people in programs to fight HIV-AIDS. The U.S. says it violates the rights of all Nigerians to free speech and association.