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Between homosexuality and jungle justice

By Adedayo Adepoju
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If homosexuality was so widely accepted in the ancient world, where did its condemnation come from? It came together with Judeo-Christian monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam in particular. Before exploration of Christian and Islamic ATH (attitudes towards homosexuality), we should try to understand what the holy books of those religions – the Bible and the Quran – say about homosexuality. Leviticus, which is part of the Old Testament, officially condemns homosexual men with the penalty of capital punishment.

18:22 states, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”.

20:13 adds: “If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads”

These lines unambiguously outlawed homosexual men both in Judaism (which is based on the Old Testament), and Christianity which accepted the Old Testament, also in addition to the New. Another nail in the coffin of homosexuality in Christianity was hammered in by Apostle Paul. The first chapter of the famous Epistle of Paul to the Romans contains passages that many Christians and Christian theologians consider as the clearest and most complete evidence of condemnation of homosexuality by Christianity.

Romans 1:26-27: “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.”

In similar fashion to Christianity, we will investigate what the Quran, the holy book of Islam, and the Islamic prophet and creator of Islam, Muhammad, said about homosexuality. Several passages in Quran explicitly condemn homosexuality as a sin.

Al-Araf 80-81, for instance, declares, “And [We had sent] Lot when he said to his people, “Do you commit such immorality as no one has preceded you with from among the worlds? (80)Indeed, you approach men with desire, instead of women. Rather, you are a transgressing people.”(81)” 37 Ash-Shura 25:165-166 “Do you approach males among the worlds (165). And leave what your Lord has created for you as mates? But you are a people transgressing.”(166)”

However, no clear punishment is determined for homosexuals in the Quran.

 “And the two who commit it among you, dishonour them both. But if they repent and correct themselves, leave them alone. Indeed, Allah is ever accepting of repentance and Merciful,” the holy book maintains.

 On the contrary, Hadiths by the Prophet Muhammad are far stricter regarding this issue. For example, passages from hadiths such as the following made it clear what should be done to homosexuals: ―

Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.

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―Narrated Abdullah ibn Abbas: If a man who is not married is seized committing sodomy, he will be stoned to death (Sunan of Abu-Dawood – Book 38 Hadith 4447 -4448)

There are also other hadiths that prescribe exactly the same things to be done to homosexuals – to kill both persons engaged in this activity, preferably to stone them to death. In addition, the Quran cited the Bible story of ―people of “Lut” (who were interpreted to be engaged in carnal activities between males) and of the following wrath of God upon Sodom and Gomorra. Therefore, the traditional schools of Islamic (Sharia) Law considered homosexuality a sin and homosexual acts to be punishable crimes. The punishment for such a sexual transgression should be the only one possible in Islam, according to the hadiths – a death penalty.

Therefore, both religions – Islam and Christianity – condemned homosexuality with the preferable punishment of the death penalty. These attitudes became actual laws when the Roman Empire was converted to Christianity in the 4th century and then when the Arab caliphate arose in the 7th century. Thus, in 342 AD, the first anti-gay law was introduced by Roman emperors Constantius II and Constans.

“When a man marries and is about to offer himself to men in womanly fashion (quum vir nubit in feminam viris porrecturam), what does he wish, when sex has lost all its significance; when the crime is one which it is not profitable to know; when Venus is changed to another form; when love is sought and not found? We order the statutes to arise, the laws to be armed with an avenging sword, that those infamous persons who are now, or who hereafter may be, guilty may be subjected to exquisite punishment”

The situation worsened with the passage of time. In 390 AD other Roman emperors Valentinian II, Theodosius I and Arcadius introduced a death penalty for homosexual men caught during sexual intercourse – to burn them alive before the public.

“All persons who have the shameful custom of condemning a man’s body, acting the part of a woman’s to the sufferance of alien sex (for they appear not to be different from women), shall expiate a crime of this kind in avenging flames in the sight of the people”

After the fall of the West Roman Empire in the 5th century, this homonegative attitude was inherited by the newborn European kingdoms which were converted to Christianity. Thus, European secular law against homosexuality was implemented in the Visigothic kingdom in 654 AD, with a penalty of castration.

“The doctrine of the orthodox faith requires us to place our censure upon vicious practices, and to restrain those who are addicted to carnal offences. For we counsel well for the benefit of our people and our country, when we take measures to utterly extirpate the crimes of wicked men, and put an end to the evil deeds of vice. For this reason we shall attempt to abolish the horrible crime of sodomy, which is as contrary to Divine precept as it is to chastity. And although the authority of the Holy Scriptures, and the censure of earthly laws, alike, prohibit offences of this kind, it is nevertheless necessary to condemn them by a new decree; lest if timely correction be deferred, still greater vices may arise. Therefore, we establish by this law, that if any man whosoever, of any age, or race, whether he belongs to the clergy, or to the laity, should be convicted, by competent evidence, of the commission of the crime of sodomy, he shall, by order of the king, or of any judge, not only suffer emasculation, but also the penalty prescribed by ecclesiastical decree for such offences, and promulgated in the third year of our reign.”

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Other European states followed and the penalty soon became that of death.

The most important thing to remember though that persecution of homosexuals never ceased in Europe from the early Middle Ages (7th century, when the first secular laws against homosexuality were implemented as mentioned above) to the end of the 18th century. This wave spread across the world and of course to Africa through colonialism; our modern constitution has its roots from English Law and gradually this homonegativity seeped in to our culture and traditional value system.

Societal Persecution

On February 17, 2016 one Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi was beaten to death in Ondo State, Nigeria following allegations that he was caught with another man engaging in a homosexual act. While his alleged accomplice escaped, Akinnifesi was not as lucky as he was clubbed and beaten severely which led to his death the following day due to complications arising from the beating

There is also another instance of jungle justice against gays recorded somewhere in Nigeria in December 2013, although unverified, wherein two alleged gay men who were said to have been caught in a homosexual act were beaten to death. As-policemen-passersby-watch/] in the presence of some police officials, who instead of stopping the dastardly act and arresting the culprits merely watched as if it was a soap opera and walked away when one of their fellow spectators, in reference to one of the victims declared in Yoruba language “o ti ku” [meaning he is dead]. In Nteje, somewhere in Anambra, people perceived to be gay or lesbians are rounded up by local vigilantes and humiliated in the public by clubbing and flogging them and making them walk round the streets naked.

These happenings could be termed mob justice since the victims were not afforded a proper trial, neither were they given fair hearing nor the opportunity to defend themselves.

Mob Justice means the unlawful conducts of a group of people who take the laws into their own hands, thereby assuming the position of a judge, jury, and executioner, and meting out punishments to persons accused of allegedly committing certain offences. In most mob justice scenarios, the victims of the mob justice are usually stripped naked, clubbed, inflicted with severe bodily injury, and in extreme cases beaten or burnt to death. All these happen without any proper trial or conviction of the victim for the alleged offence. Section 36 (4) of the Nigerian Constitution provides that “whenever any person is charged with a criminal offence, he shall, unless the charge is withdrawn, be entitled to a fair hearing in public within a reasonable time by a court or tribunal.”

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 Even where a person stands accused of a criminal offence, the constitution still affords him the right to respect for the dignity of his person and prohibits subjecting such a person, or any other person for that matter, to inhuman or degrading treatment. And finally, all accused persons, and all persons in general, is guaranteed a right to life. Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi and others like him were denied this right to fair hearing, right to the dignity of their persons, and in extreme cases, their right to life.

 Mob justice is a crime under the Nigerian law. But it’s unfortunate that nobody till date has been arrested nor charged to court for the murder of Akinnifesi despite the fact that the dastardly act was carried out in broad day light in the full glare of the whole world. There is the need to afford persons accused of LGBT offences fair trial which is a constitutional requirement and not allow or seem to condone the meting out of jungle justice on LGBT persons without any opportunity to defend themselves. And where any instance of jungle justice is established, the culprits should be apprehended and made to face the full wrath of the law.

The Same Sex Prohibition Act of 2013 seems to have put an imprimatur of lawfulness on hate crimes targeting gays in the Nigerian society. The late Akinnifesi may even be innocent of the ‘homosexual’ tag. He was not afforded any opportunity of defending himself before a proper law court against the obnoxious anti-gay legislations. The two men that were murdered, in the presence of some Nigerian policemen who did nothing to come to their rescue nor arrest their assailants on account of their supposedly gayness, met their untimely death because some sections of the society assume that the law had empowered them as vigilantes of the society to hunt down homosexuals and clean up the society. None of the assailants in both cases and numerous other instances had been brought to book, and this sends a wrong signal to other persons who may want to turn to homosexual bounty hunters in future, that the law supports whatever mob action that is taken against such homosexual persons.

Adepoju, a media consultant and activist

writes from Houston, Texas, USA

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