President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan in Jerusalem, Israel, October 28, 2013.
Abir Sultan/EPA

State Department pressed on Nigeria arrests

The Associated Press on Tuesday reported the arrests of 38 men in Nigeria, accused of being members of a gay organization, with 168 others still being sought by authorities on similar charges. Under Nigeria’s new Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, the charge carries a sentence of up to ten years in prison.

According to Dorothy Aken’Ova, executive director of Nigeria’s International Center for Reproductive Health and Sexual Rights, police arrested the men and tortured them for more names.

The U.S. State Department, asked for confirmation of the arrests or any of the details, said at the time that they were still looking into the matter.

The question was raised again at today’s State Department press briefing with spokesperson Jen Psaki, but while Psaki reiterated U.S. concern over the arrests and the new law, no further information has been learned.

An excerpted transcript of today’s briefing after the jump…

Q: On Nigeria, there are continued reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 160 others are being pursued following the passage of the anti-gay law there. It was last said the State Department was trying to confirm those reports. Any updates on that?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there. Obviously, we’ve expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well.

Let me see if I just have anything new on here on this, on the specific numbers.

Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m happy to check and see if – it’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines in other countries.

Q: The Human Rights Campaign put out a statement last night calling on the State Department to use every available tool to demonstrate Nigeria’s jeopardized its international standing by targeting its LGBT citizens. It was said before there was no talk of sanctions or loss of aid. But if that’s the case, so what options are on the table?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any options to outline for you at this point. I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law. So it’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR.

So those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support, and I just wanted to note that, as you asked about our funding.

Q: And in a related topic, the president of Uganda has reportedly sent back to the Parliament that country’s anti- homosexuality bill. Is the State Department aware of that? Any reaction to that?

MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that. I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that. 

Gay Rights

State Department pressed on Nigeria arrests