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New Report Demonstrates Chilling Effects of Nigeria’s ‘Anti-Gay Law’

PEN America and the Leitner Center team up to shine a light on repressive anti-LGBTI laws

New York, NY (June 29, 2015)— Eighteen months after its passage, Nigeria’s “anti-gay law” has sharply curbed freedom of expression, assembly, and association in Africa’s largest democracy, according to a new report released today by PEN American Center, PEN Nigeria, and the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School. 

Silenced Voices, Threatened Lives: The Impact of Nigeria’s Anti-LGBTI Law on Freedom of Expression uses potent and poignant individual testimonies by LGBTI Nigerians to demonstrate how the the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act of 2014 has distorted Nigeria’s cultural and political landscape by silencing the country’s LGBTI community through state-sanctioned intimidation and marginalization. Drawing on interviews with local LGBTI authors, artists, activists, and their allies, the report details the cascading effects of a law that, while purporting to target same sex marriage, has infringed upon rights to free speech, access to health care, housing, and employment, interfered with civil and political rights, and led to wholesale impunity for violence against LGBTI people. The report documents the cases of writers unable to publish their books, poems, and stories, organizations forbidden from meeting, social media communities chilled by government infiltration, and rising incidents of blackmail and extortion directed at LGBTI individuals. The report showcases Nigeria’s at-risk literary and artistic traditions with works by prominent writers and artists from Nigeria’s LGBTI community and diaspora, including Unoma Azuah, Jude Dibia, and Adejoke Tugbiyele

“Amidst celebrations of progress on gay rights in the United States, we cannot overlook the grave and worsening dangers faced by LGBTI people in Nigeria and elsewhere. Though dubbed a prohibition on gay marriage, Nigeria’s anti-gay law has made it nearly impossible for Nigerians to give and get information on LGBTI issues, including access to HIV/AIDS treatments,” said PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel.  

“LGBTI Nigerians cannot express their identities, write or publish about their experiences, or even advocate for their own human rights,” Nossel said.  “The law is essentially self-enforcing, barring most challenges to its own legality as prohibited LGBTI advocacy and effectively legalizing vigilante justice against gay individuals.” 

Released today as Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari marks the end of his first month in office, Silenced Voices, Threatened Lives includes recommendations to the Nigerian government to repeal all laws that criminalize consensual same sex relationships or the open expression of sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“This law attempts to erase gay culture by making it dangerous for LGBTI individuals to be themselves even in private,” said Leitner Center Director Professor Tracy Higgins.  “We call upon President Buhari and Nigeria’s lawmakers to take immediate steps to repeal this draconian statute and ensure Nigeria’s compliance with its own constitutional human rights obligations, as well as internationally-mandated protections for free expression, freedom of association, and other rights.”

“We are gravely concerned about the impact of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act on literary and artistic expression in Nigeria,” said Nigerian PEN President Tade Ipadeola. “We have seen writers and artists forced to put down their pens and brushes, hide their work and, in some cases, leave the country.  The cost of this law is measured not only in the abuses suffered by these individuals, but in a Nigerian cultural landscape that is being deprived of its full diversity.”

The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, signed into law by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014, prescribes long prison terms for anyone engaging in or endorsing homosexual activity, same-sex marriage, or social organizations that advocate publicly for LGBTI issues. Similar laws have recently been enacted in Russia and Uganda, among other countries. Critics argue that these laws attempt to distract local populations from endemic problems, such as poverty, failed education systems, and corruption, by “uniting in homophobia.” The report argues that in Nigeria—and other places around the world where political leaders stoke homophobic undercurrents to build support—the targeting of LGBTI individuals leads to a wide range of deprivations of fundamental rights.  

“Free expression of one’s own identity and opinions is the bedrock of all human rights,” said Nossel.  “Where this right is denied, all forms of personal freedom are in jeopardy—for not just the LGBTI community, but also the population at-large.”

Read and download the report here.

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Founded in 1922, PEN American Center is an association of 4,000 U.S writers working to break down barriers to free expression worldwide. Its distinguished members carry on the achievements in literature and the advancement of human rights of such past members as Langston Hughes, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, and John Steinbeck. www.pen.org

One of the oldest and largest law school–based human rights programs, The Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School provides education and training to law students, facilitates capacity building and advocacy with activists and grassroots groups around the world, and contributes to critical research among scholars in international human rights. www.leitnercenter.org

PEN Nigeria is one of 144 Centers of PEN International, the world’s leading literary and human rights organization. Based in Lagos, PEN Nigeria actively campaigns on free expression issues and in defense of persecuted writers.


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