Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Day In Court With Homosexual Suspects

FROM PAUL ORUDE, BAUCHI

As early as 8am in the morning of Wednesday, January 22, 2014, a huge crowd had gathered outside the premises of the small Upper Sharia Court 4 in Anguwan Jaki, Bauchi eagerly waiting for the trial of seven suspected homosexuals.The suspects were arrested by the Hisbah, an arm of Bauchi State Sharia Commission established to enforce Sharia law in the state, and handed to the police command.
At exactly 9 am, two dark green Hilux prison vans stopped opposite the old court building. The seven started alighting from one of the vans and headed for the courts from the rear door flung open by one of the prison wardens.With expressionless faces, Ibrahim Marafa, Shehu Adamu, Yusuf Adamu, Aliyu Dalhatu, Abdulmalik Tanko, Usman Sabo and Hazif Sabo Abubakar, all sporting green uniforms, were led inside the courtroom by fierce looking armed security personnel.The oldest was Marafa, in his mid or late 50s. He is a married secondary school principal with four children. Looking impassive, the suspects were led to the front of the courtroom. They sat on two long wooden benches guarded by two prison wardens.There was hardly a space inside the court which was filled to capacity. Many were left standing.The session was expectedly going to be a rowdy one as everyone inside the court struggled for seats.The courtroom was looking outdated and old inside and outside. If not for the trial due to take place, the structure does not pass for a court building.Except for people familiar with daily proceedings there, a stranger would most likely miss it.  Placed opposite the suspects was the judge’s wooden table with some files neatly arranged on them before a vacant chair. Everyone eagerly awaited the judge’s arrival.Inside the courtroom as the presiding judge was being awaited, discussions were going on in hushed tone.A man told his bewildered listener that any of the accused found guilty would be stoned to death and his body buried in the ground leaving only his head exposed.“It is usually children from the ages of 10 that carry out the stoning,” he said adding that proving such cases usually committed in secret is a Herculean task as three witnesses must be produced to establish the offence.“Some years ago, a woman was convicted to death by stoning by a Sharia court in the state for adultery. The governor refused to sign her execution. With pressure from the international community, the woman was eventually freed,” he said.Meanwhile, security personnel were having a hectic time controlling the crowd outside the court, which kept increasing.The popular Central Market and commercial Wunti Street are stone throws away. Adjacent to the court is the big mosque of the popular Islamic cleric, Sheik Dahiru Bauchi.   The cleric while reacting to the same-sex prohibition law, said: “Any ethno-religious group or faith, community or individual that is not in tandem with the majority Muslims and Christians views in concordance with the same-sex prohibition law will be regarded as minority or voiceless in political, cultural and organizational set up of this country.“Can any human being or person vividly recall whether he or she is a product of the same-sex marriage.  If no, what could be said about the product of same-sex, human, animal, beast?”A few minutes past 11 am, the presiding Judge El-Yaqiub Aliyu breezed in and the business of the day started.Marafa was the first to be called.  His counsel, Abdul Musa appealed for bail, citing relevant sections of the constitution and criminal code. He argued that Marafa was a family man and the breadwinner of his family. He said the accused was a responsible man who would not jump bail.But counsel to the Shariah commission, Danlami Ayuba reminded the court that the suspect was standing trial for a crime punishable by death and that he could jump bail to escape punishment. The judge in his ruling dismissed the bail application, saying although the suspect was entitled to bail, in view of the sensitive nature of the trial and offence, it was in the best interest of the accused to be kept in custody in the meantime.Similarly, the State Shariah Commission counsel paraded six other suspects. When Shehu Adamu and Yusuf Adamu were called, counsel to the Sharia commission presented a witness, Daltahu Gambo.The witness, a 35-years-old carpenter claimed that the suspects usually met in a house at Bakin Kura in the night to engage in same-sex acts. Gambo said when the suspects got wind that information had reached residents, they switched to coming in the day time.Under cross examination, Gambo could not prove whether they had anal sex. When Shehu and Yusuf asked the witness questions regarding the alleged activities and arrest, Gambo was unable to establish the fact that he saw them committing the alleged offence. Consequently, the presiding judge cautioned the Sharia commission counsel to ensure that they had proper evidence on the accused persons before arraigning them in court. He lamented an instance where an accused pleaded guilty of the offence he had committed four years ago and repented and was brought to court after he had repented. He warned that an accused in Islam is innocent until proper evidence had been established that he had committed the offence, quoting references from the Hadith. The judge then adjourned the case at 1: 40 pm but tactically did not announce the adjournment date, perhaps sensing tension and sensitivity building around the case.  No sooner had the session closed than the premises was surrounded by a mob. They had expected judgement to be swift. There was pandemonium as stones started flying in various directions. The stones were targeted at the suspects. The development forced security personnel to fire gunshots and teargas canisters to disperse the crowd, which was baying for the blood of the suspects. The mob kept hurling stones at the van carrying the suspects as it sped dangerously back to prison. A few people sustained injury in the fracas. The presiding judge, lawyers, witnesses, reporters and court officials scampered for safety as the teargas filled the air.


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