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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 13:03 GMT 14:03 UK
Clash over Nigeria cross-dressing
One of the accused in a police van
The men accused of dressing as women came from several states
Police in northern Nigeria have clashed with Muslim youths angry at a Sharia court's decision to grant bail to 18 men accused of dressing as women.

For about 30 minutes, the protesters held up traffic on Bauchi's main street chanting slogans saying the accused men had been let off lightly.

Riot police fired teargas to disperse them, a BBC reporter in the north-eastern city says.

Trial judge Tanimu Abubakar freed five of the 18 men who met bail conditions.

The other 13 have been sent back to prison.

The men all pleaded not guilty to charges of "indecent dressing" and "vagrancy" and were granted bail after they paid 20,000 Naira ($158) each.

But some young men who gathered outside the court premises felt the men did not deserve bail and began hurling stones at the court house.

The BBC's Shehu Saulawa in Bauchi says the trial is fast becoming "a celebrity case".

He says the court room was so crammed with people that many could not get in as the prosecution and defence presented their briefs.

The 18 men were arrested two weeks ago in a hotel room in Bauchi, which is governed by the Islamic Sharia legal system.

Although they were initially accused of sodomy, the charges have now been changed to "indecent dressing" or cross-dressing and "vagrancy".

"Any (male) person who dresses .. in the fashion of a woman in a public place... will be liable to a term of one year or 30 lashes" a spokesman for the local sharia police, Muhamad Muhamad Bununu, told AFP news agency.

The Sharia punishment for sodomy is death by stoning, but he said that was much harder to prove as four witnesses were needed.

More than a dozen Nigerian Muslims have been sentenced to death by stoning for sexual offences ranging such as adultery and homosexuality.

But none of these death sentences have actually been carried out - either being thrown out on appeal or commuted to prison terms as a result of pressure from human rights groups.

Many others have been sentenced to flogging by horsewhip for drinking.

There have been two amputations in north-western Zamfara State - which pioneered the introduction of the Islamic legal system in the country.

Nigeria, like many African countries, is a conservative society where homosexuality is considered a taboo.


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