Tag Archives: Nigeria

Nigerians sue Shell for oil spills

Tens of thousands of Nigerian fishermen and farmers are suing multinational oil giant Shell in two new lawsuits filed this week in a British High Court, alleging that decades of uncleaned oil spills have destroyed their lives.

London law firm Leigh Day & Co. is representing them after winning an unprecedented $83.5 million in damages from Shell in a landmark ruling by the same court last year. Shell originally offered villagers $50,000.

Statement from Shell

In a statement on March 2 before the trial opened, Shell blamed sabotage and oil theft for the ongoing pollution and noted it had halted oil production in 1993 in Ogoniland, the area where the two communities are located in Nigeria’s oil-rich southern Niger Delta.

Shell said it will challenge the jurisdiction of the British court.

“Asking the English court to intervene … is a direct challenge to the internal political acts and decisions of the Nigerian state,” Shell said.

Pollution since 1950s

The Ogoni are among the most traumatized of millions of Nigerians suffering oil pollution since the late 1950s on a level that human rights activists say would never be allowed in the home countries of the multinationals that operate in Nigeria in joint partnerships with the Nigerian government. Peaceful Ogoni protests in the 1990s were attacked by firing troops who turned the oil-producing south into a war zone. Human rights activist and writer Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other Ogoni leaders were executed by a military government in 1995.

Typically, victims of oil pollution spend years battling a Nigerian court system, widely criticized by rights groups as corrupt, only to come away with a pittance, so lawyers decided to challenge Shell at its London headquarters.

Boko Haram strikes Nigerian city, at least 50 dead

Boko Haram Islamic extremists struck the northeastern Nigerian city of Maiduguri for the first time in months Monday with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple suicide bombers, witnesses said. At least 50 people were killed and the death toll could go higher.

Another twin suicide bombing killed at least 30 people in Madagali, a town 150 kilometers (95 miles) southeast of Maiduguri, witnesses said. Danladi Buba said two women detonated at a market near a busy bus station at about 9 a.m. Brig. Gen. Victor Ezugwu, the officer commanding in northeast Adamawa State, confirmed the attack but said casualties have yet to be established.

In Maiduguri, capital of neighboring Borno state, at least 30 were killed and more than 90 wounded in overnight blasts and shootouts, and another 20 died in a bombing outside a mosque at dawn Monday, said Muhammed Kanar, area coordinator of the National Emergency Management Agency.

The military said there were multiple attacks at four southwestern entry points to the city.

In another blast, two girls blew themselves up in Buraburin neighborhood, killing several people, according to civil servant Yunusa Abdullahi.

“We are under siege,” Abdullahi said. “We don’t know how many of these bombs or these female suicide bombers were sneaked into Maiduguri last night.” He said some residents have found undetonated bombs.

The attack appears to be a challenge to President Muhammadu Buhari’s declaration last week that Boko Haram has been “technically” defeated, capable of no more than suicide bombings on soft targets.

Acting on information provided by a captured insurgent, Nigerian troops “intercepted and destroyed” 13 suicide bombers and arrested one female suicide bomber in repelling the attackers, Maj. Gen. Lamidi Adeosun, the commander prosecuting Nigeria’s war against Boko Haram, told reporters.

Maiduguri, the city under attack, is the birthplace of Boko Haram, which emerged as a much more radical entity after Nigerian security forces launched an all-out assault on their compound in the city, killing 700 people in 2009.

Militants firing indiscriminately from the back of three trucks attacked the outlying village of Dawari, soldiers engaged them, and as people were fleeing, a woman ran into the area yelling “Boko Haram, Boko Haram.” When people gathered, she detonated herself, according to village head Bulama Isa.

A rocket-propelled grenade then exploded, setting alight grass-thatched huts, and a second woman blew herself up, according to Isa. Among those killed was the village chief and 10 of his children, according to residents Ahmed Bala and Umar Ibrahim.

A soldier said the insurgents fired rocket-propelled grenades into four residential areas on the outskirts of the city. Soldiers fired back, and many civilians were caught in the crossfire, according to the soldier, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to journalists.

Three suicide bombers blew themselves up at a home near Bakassi Estate, killing 18 people Sunday evening, another soldier told The Associated Press.

A nurse at Maiduguri Specialist Hospital said dozens of critically wounded, mainly children and women, may not survive. The nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to reporters, said the hospital was so overflowing with patients that some had to be cared for in the maternity ward. About 60 people had wounds from bullets and shrapnel from explosive devices, she said. Other wounded people had to be sent to other hospitals in the city.

Among them was a baby found dead, still tied to the back of her mother, who survived after being hit by shrapnel, the nurse said.

It was hard to do a body count because so many had been blown into pieces, she said, describing torsos and dismembered arms and legs.

Maiduguri, a city of about 1 million people, now hosts almost as many refugees, among 2.5 million people driven from their homes in the 6-year-old Islamic uprising. About 20,000 people have been killed in Nigeria and hundreds others elsewhere as the insurgents have carried their conflict across its borders into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

With rescue near, Boko Haram stoned girls to death

Even with the crackle of gunfire signaling rescuers were near, the horrors did not end: Boko Haram fighters stoned captives to death, some girls and women were crushed by an armored car and three died when a land mine exploded as they walked to freedom.

Through tears, smiles and eyes filled with pain, the survivors of months in the hands of the Islamic extremists told their tragic stories to The Associated Press on May 3, their first day out of the war zone.

“We just have to give praise to God that we are alive, those of us who have survived,” said 27-year-old Lami Musa as she cradled her 5-day-old baby girl.

She was among 275 girls, women and their young children, many bewildered and traumatized, who were getting medical care and being registered a day after making it to safety.

Nigeria’s military said it has freed nearly 700 Boko Haram captives in the past week. It is still unclear if any of them were among the so-called “Chibok girls,” whose mass abduction from their school a year ago sparked outrage worldwide and a campaign for their freedom under the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls.

Musa was in the first group of rescued women and girls to be transported by road over three days to the safety of the Malkohi refugee camp, a dust-blown deserted school set among baobab trees opposite a military barracks on the outskirts of Yola, the capital of northeastern Adamawa state.

Last week’s rescue saved her from a forced marriage to one of the killers of her husband, she said.

“They took me so I can marry one of their commanders,” she said of the militants who carried her away from her village after slaughtering her husband and forcing her to abandon their three young children, whose fates remain unknown. That was five months ago in Lassa village.

“When they realized I was pregnant, they said I was impregnated by an infidel, and we have killed him. Once you deliver, within a week we will marry you to our commander,” she said, tears running down her cheeks as she recalled her husband and lost children.

Musa gave birth to a curly-haired daughter the night before last week’s rescue.

As gunshots rang out, “Boko Haram came and told us they were moving out and that we should run away with them. But we said no,” she said from a bed in the camp clinic, a blanket wrapped around ankles so swollen that each step had been agony.

“Then they started stoning us. I held my baby to my stomach and doubled over to protect her,” she said, bending reflexively at the waist as though she still had to shield her newborn.

She and another survivor of the stoning, 20-year-old Salamatu Bulama, said several girls and women were killed, but they did not know how many.

The horrors did not end once the military arrived.

A group of women were hiding under some bushes, where they could not be seen by soldiers riding in an armored personnel carrier, who drove right over them.

“I think those killed there were about 10,” Bulama said.

Other women died from stray bullets, she said, identifying three by name.

There were not enough vehicles to transport all of the freed captives and some women had to walk, Musa said. Those on foot were told to walk in the tire tracks made by the convoy because Boko Haram militants had mined much of the forest. But some of the women must have strayed because a land mine exploded, killing three, she said.

Bulama shielded her face with her veil and cried when she thought about another death: Her only son, a 2-year-old toddler who died two months ago of an illness she said was aggravated by malnutrition.

“What will I tell my husband?” she sobbed after learning from other survivors who used borrowed cell phones to try to trace relatives that her husband was alive and in the northern town of Kaduna.

Musa, who had been in pain and withdrawn after her arrival the night before, greeted a reporter with smiles on Sunday – and the news that her breasts were finally giving milk and nourishment to her yet-to-be-named daughter.

Another survivor, Binta Ibrahim, was 16 years old and accompanying her sister-in-law to the dressmaker when Boko Haram insurgents rode into their village of Izghe, firing randomly at civilians. On that day in February 2014, the AP reported at least 109 people were killed and almost every hut destroyed as the militants lobbed firebombs onto their thatch roofs.

Ibrahim, her sister-in-law and two of Ibrahim’s sisters were among scores of young women abducted.

Her two sisters escaped in the pandemonium that surrounded an air raid, but Ibrahim, who was caring for three children she found abandoned after the insurgents moved into the neighboring village of Nbitha, did not go with them.

“I had these three kids to care for and I couldn’t abandon them a second time,” she explained.

She described trekking for two days from Nbitha to Boko Haram’s hideout in the Sambisa Forest with 2-year-old Matthew and 4-year-old Elija Yohanna strapped to her back and 4-year-old Maryam Samaila clinging to her waist.

“They were so weak from lack of food that they couldn’t walk. There was nothing to do but rest when I couldn’t take another step, and then press ahead when I had recovered,” she said.

The children are Christian and Ibrahim is a Muslim. While Nigeria’s northeastern Islamic insurgency has polarized many of Nigeria’s people on religious lines, that was the last thing in Ibrahim’s big heart.

“I love them as if they are my own,” she said, striking her breast with both fists to show the depth of her love for the children, who were rescued with her and still remain in her care.

Justice is as justice does

Spring has finally sprung. While others rejoice in the warmth of the sun, my thoughts have been in darker places. 

There’s so much evil in the world, so little justice. I thought I’d work out my gloom by suggesting some ideal punishments for perpetrators of cruelty and injustice. Hey, it’s cheaper than going to a shrink.

Don’t be shocked. When it comes to crime and evil, I’m no liberal. I’m more like Madame Defarge, who cried: “Tell the wind and the fire where to stop, not me!”

The trigger for my depression was the alarming number of bodies — mostly women’s bodies — that showed up again this spring in Wisconsin rivers, cornfields, ditches and burn pits. I say anyone who mutilates and murders a woman and discards her body should face punishment that matches the crime in every gruesome detail. Some crimes are unforgivable, some criminals irredeemable.

Christina Huth of the Crazy 8s roller-derby team survived being shot in the chest by an armed robber in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood last year. Huth, whose moniker is “Sin N’ Innocence,” is finally back on her skates but the authorities have not apprehended her assailant.

When police do find the thug, I think he should face justice from the entire Brewcity Bruisers Roller Derby League. Put him on skates and see if he can survive a few jams with the Bruisers. What a show that would be!

Poetic justice for conservatives who want to cut food stamps and oppose an increase in the minimum wage is obvious. Force them to live on food stamps and the current minimum wage for a year. They wouldn’t last one month.

Why this meanness about denying our fellow citizens food and a fair wage to support themselves and their families? Aren’t health and employment basic requirements for a stable society? We have billions for arms and private interest subsidies but not for our neighbors? What’s that about? Beware those who want to divide us.

In another divisive move, Milwaukee’s Southridge Mall has restricted public buses from its massive parking lot, forcing poor, elderly and disabled people to negotiate a dangerous 1,000-foot route from the bordering streets. How backward and insensitive can you be? Exclusion is not the way to do business in the 21st century. 

I hope that Southridge’s owners develop temporary disabilities that will give them a reality check and a chance to develop some empathy. I encourage Southridge customers to join the growing boycott and let management know you are shopping elsewhere. This is a local justice issue on which you can really have an impact.

To global warming deniers, who are mostly wealthy corporate tycoons, and their paid media lapdogs, I hereby channel my inner Moses: May your beach properties be inundated by the seas; may your corporate farmlands shrivel in the heat; may you have no water to drink except that fouled by your own pollution.

Finally, to Boko Haram, the Taliban and other fiends who enslave and kill little girls because they don’t want girls educated and they hate Western culture: May you be imprisoned and tortured for life, forced to watch a blaring, unending video loop of Queen Elsa belting the girl-power anthem “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, a movie which celebrates the Western values of freedom, respect for differences and everyone’s right to a fabulous makeover.

Ah, sweet justice. 

Women in Senate back U.S. help to free girls kidnapped in Nigeria

Women in the U.S. Senate, including Wisconsin Democrat Tammy Baldwin, wrote the president backing U.S. action to help find the 276 girls kidnapped by Islamic extremists in Nigeria.

“Boko Haram has threatened to sell the girls as slaves, and some may have already been sold into child marriages,” the women senators wrote to President Barack Obama. “We condemn these appalling actions in the strongest possible terms, and we agree with you that the abduction of these girls is an outrage. The girls were targeted by Boko Haram because they wanted to go to school and pursue knowledge, and we believe the United States must respond quickly and definitively.”

The senators urged further sanctions against Boko Haram, described in the letter as “a threat to innocent civilians in Nigeria, to regional security, and to U.S. national interests.”

They continued, “While we applaud the initial U.S. condemnation of the kidnapping, we believe there is much more that the U.S. government should do to make clear that such an attack will not be tolerated.”

The names at the top of the signature list: Barbara Mikulski and Susan Collins.

The president said on May 6 that the United States would do all it can to help find the girls kidnapped three weeks ago from school.

“In the short term our goal is obviously is to help the international community, and the Nigerian government, as a team to do everything we can to recover these young ladies,” Obama said in an interview with NBC’s “Today.”

“But we’re also going to have to deal with the broader problem of organizations like this that … can cause such havoc in people’s day-to-day lives,” Obama said of Boko Haram.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. is sending technical experts to Nigeria — military and law enforcement personnel skilled in intelligence, investigations, hostage negotiating, information sharing and victim assistance — but not military troops.

4 men publicly whipped in Nigeria for homosexuality

A human rights network says four men convicted of having gay sex have been whipped publicly in an Islamic court in northern Nigeria.

Dorothy Aken’Ova of the Coalition for the Defense of Sexual Rights Network says the men will go to jail and face humiliation and beatings if rights organizations do not come up with an additional fine of 20,000 naira ($120) each meted out on March 6 by a judge in Bauchi city.

She says the men, aged between 20 and 22, should not have been convicted because their confessions were forced by law agents who beat them.

Gays can be sentenced to death under Islamic Shariah law in force in some northern Nigerian states.

The four men were among dozens arrested after Nigeria strengthened laws against homosexuals in January.

Gay rights group wants Kerry to recall ambassadors to Uganda, Nigeria

The Human Rights Campaign is calling on U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to recall the nation’s ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria.

The nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group says that urgent consultation is required before regular diplomacy can proceed with nations that recently enacted some of the world’s most virulently anti-LGBT laws.

“The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government. We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both Ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Ugandan president announced that President Yoweri Museveni would sign an archaic anti-LGBT bill into law that was passed by the Uganda parliament last December. The measure calls for gay Ugandans or anyone “promoting” homosexuality to be jailed — potentially for life.

The passage of the AHB is part of a broader attack on fundamental freedoms in Uganda over the past several years. Human rights violations are on the rise there and the bill represents an especially troubling escalation of this trend, according to human rights leaders.

Meanwhile, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has signed into law a measure that criminalizes same-sex marriage, punishes homosexuality with jail terms of up to 14 years and threatens any person who supports or is a member of an LGBT organization with 10 years’ imprisonment.

Since the law was enacted, Nigerian activists and human rights groups have reported dozens of LGBT people have been arrested.

Over the weekend, U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice reported on Twitter that dialogue with Museveni urging him to refrain from enacting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had proven unproductive.

President Barrack Obama also issued a statement condemning the AHB.

Kerry too has criticized the governments of Uganda and Nigeria.

And, more recently, the secretary of state issued a statement on anti-gay rhetoric from officials in the Gambia.

Kerry said, “The United States is deeply troubled by the hateful rhetoric used by President Jammeh in his National Day speech on Feb. 18. All people are created equal and should be able to live free from discrimination, and that includes discrimination based on sexual identity and sexual orientation. We call on the government of the Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.”

Kerry also said, “Human rights and fundamental freedoms belong to all individuals. The United States stands by you no matter where you are and no matter who you love.”

Police join mob in mass ‘cleansing’ of gays in Nigerian capital

A mob armed with wooden clubs and iron bars, screaming that they were going to “cleanse” their neighborhood of gay people, dragged 14 young men from their beds and assaulted them, human rights activists said Saturday.

Four of the victims were marched to a police station, where they allegedly were kicked and punched by police officers who yelled pejoratives at them, said Ifeanyi Orazulike of the International Center on Advocacy for the Right to Health.

Police threatened that the men would be incarcerated for 14 years, he said, the maximum prison sentence under Nigeria’s new Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act, dubbed the “Jail the Gays” law. Activists have warned the law could trigger attacks such as the one perpetrated in the early hours of Thursday morning in Abuja, the capital of Africa’s most populous nation.

Mob justice is common in Nigeria and civil rights organizations have been warning for years of an increase in community violence and the government’s failure to curb acts in which people have been beaten to death for perceived crimes such as theft.

“Since the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act was signed, we have expressed concern as a friend of Nigeria that it might be used by some to justify violence against Nigerians based on their sexual orientation,” the U.S. Embassy said in a statement Friday. “Recent attacks in Abuja deepen our concern on this front.”

Anti-LGBT laws, attitudes still hold sway in many regions

While gay-rights activists celebrate gains in much of the world, their setbacks have been equally far-flung, and often sweeping in scope.

In Russia, a law against “gay propaganda” has left gays and lesbians unsure of what public actions they can take without risking arrest. In India, gay-rights supporters were stunned by a recent high court ruling re-criminalizing gay sex. A newly signed law in Nigeria sets 10-year prison terms for joining or promoting any gay organization, while a pending bill in Uganda would impose life sentences for some types of gay sex.

In such countries, repression of gays is depicted by political leaders as a defense of traditional values. The measures often have broad support from religious leaders and the public, limiting the impact of criticism from outsiders. The upshot: A world likely to be bitterly divided over gay rights for years to come.

Globally, the contrasts are striking. Sixteen countries have legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, including Canada, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil and New Zealand as well as 10 European nations, and gay marriage is legal in parts of the United States and Mexico. Yet at least 76 countries retain laws criminalizing gay sex, including five where it’s punishable by death.

Here’s a look at major regions where the gay-rights movement remains embattled or marginalized:

AFRICA:

According to human rights groups, more than two-thirds of African countries outlaw consensual same-sex acts, and discrimination and violence against gays, lesbians and transgender people is commonplace. While many of the laws date to the colonial era, opposition to homosexuality has gained increasing traction as a political tactic over the past two decades.

In 1995, President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – who’s still in office – denounced gays and lesbians as “worse than pigs and dogs.” He has since been joined by political and religious leaders continent-wide calling for punishments ranging from arrest to decapitation.

Africans promoting anti-gay legislation have expressed alarm about gains made by sexual minorities in the United States and Europe. They say laws such as the one newly signed in Nigeria can serve as a bulwark against Western pressure to enshrine gay rights.

In Liberia, for example, a religious group called the New Citizen Movement has spent the past year collecting signatures urging President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to sign a law banning same-sex marriage – even though, as in Nigeria, there has been no local movement to legalize it.

Rev. Cleopatra Watson, the group’s executive director, said Nigeria’s law was “a prayer answered” that could lead to the passage of similar legislation in other African countries.

From afar, Nigeria’s new law has drawn harsh criticism from human rights groups, Western governments, and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. However, support for anti-gay legislation presents few domestic political risks for African leaders, with polls suggesting most citizens believe sexual minorities are not entitled to basic civil rights.

In Cameroon, gay men are routinely sentenced to prison for gay sex, and in July a prominent gay activist, Eric Ohena Lembembe, was tortured and killed in an attack.

Gay-rights supporters nonetheless hold out hope for long-term change, suggesting that recent anti-gay rhetoric and laws were a response to an emergence of sustained gay-rights activism.

“If there weren’t an increasingly effective movement, there would not be such a virulent backlash,” said Neela Ghoshal, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

ASIA:

The world’s largest continent, Asia is a mixed bag when it comes to gay issues, due to vast differences in culture, religion and history. Though no Asian nation yet allows gay marriage, Thailand has a government-sponsored campaign to attract gay tourists, while China, Vietnam and Taiwan, among others, are increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians.

However, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan outlaw gay sex and, for the moment, so does India, following the recent decision of its high court to revive a ban on gay sex that had been quashed by a lower court in 2009. The high court said it’s up to lawmakers, not judges, to change the law.

Amid the legal wrangling, gays and lesbians have gained a degree of acceptance in parts of India, especially in big cities where gay-pride parades are now a fixture. Many bars have gay nights, and some high-profile Bollywood films have dealt with gay issues.

In most of the country, however, being gay is seen as shameful, and many gays remain closeted.

Gautam Bhan, an Indian gay activist, said he was heartened by the vocal outcry against the high court ruling.

“There may be a backlash and reversals, but the long-term trend is toward openness, freedom and diversity,” he said. “Eventually we will get past this law.”

In majority-Muslim Malaysia, the government has shown no interest in promoting gay rights. Sodomy is punishable by 20 years in prison and whipping with a rattan cane, and censorship rules forbid the production and screening of films that might be considered supportive of gay rights.

Earlier this month, the Home Ministry declared a coalition of activist groups illegal, partly because they were deemed to have championed gay rights.

“Malaysia is at the worst end of the scale,” said Grace Poore, a Malaysian who is Asia program coordinator for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “They are targeting LGBT people because they are convenient scapegoats.”

In heavily Muslim Indonesia, gay sex is not criminalized, and many young, urban Indonesians are relatively tolerant of homosexuality, but most citizens consider it unacceptable.

“Gay people are still living in fear,” said King Oey, chairman of the country’s main gay-rights group.

CARIBBEAN/LATIN AMERICA:

While the gay-rights movement has achieved major victories in some South American countries, gays remain targets of violence and harassment in parts of Central America and the Caribbean.

In Honduras, activists report a serious problem of violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 90 members of the LGBT community were killed between 2009 and 2012.

Several countries in the English-speaking Caribbean still have colonial-era laws criminalizing sex between men, including Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, St. Lucia and Dominica. Gays in Jamaica say they suffer frequent discrimination and abuse, and have little recourse because of widespread anti-gay stigma.

“Homophobia is expected, celebrated, culturally ingrained,” said Dane Lewis, leader of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All Sexuals and Gays.

Anti-gay sentiment is fueled by some church leaders who accuse gays of flaunting their behavior to “recruit” youngsters, and some stars of Jamaican dancehall music use gay-bashing lyrics to rouse concertgoers.

For gay tourists, the Caribbean is generally safe, but not always. Masked gunmen broke into a vacation cottage in St. Lucia in 2011 and beat three gay Americans while making anti-gay slurs. In 2006, two gay men from New York were assaulted outside a bar in Dutch St. Maarten; one of the victims sustained brain damage.

In Cuba, homosexuality was frowned on in the early decades after Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution. Gays were commonly harassed by police, sent to work camps or dismissed from government jobs. Some fled into exile.

More recently, Castro apologized for the persecution. His niece, Mariela Castro, the daughter of current President Raul Castro, is a leading activist for LGBT rights on the island and has lobbied, so far unsuccessfully, for same-sex marriage.

EASTERN EUROPE:

Russia’s law banning “gay propaganda” has drawn extensive criticism abroad, but seems to be widely accepted at home – perhaps not surprising in a country where a popular news anchorman recently said gays’ hearts should be buried or burned.

The law was signed in June by President Vladimir Putin after sailing through Parliament. It levies heavy fines on anyone convicted of propagandizing “nontraditional sexual relations” among minors.

Putin, in his third term, has been catering to an increasingly conservative constituency, repeating catch-phrases about Russia’s traditional values and condemning the West for trends that threaten to destroy them, including homosexuality.

That language has struck a chord in much of Russia, where the rising influence of the Orthodox Church and widespread ignorance about gays has contributed to acceptance of the propaganda law. Polls indicate that the vast majority of Russians don’t have a single gay acquaintance and oppose expansion of gay rights.

As a result, a growing cadre of public figures shows no hesitation to demonize gays.

State television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov told audiences that gays should be banned from donating blood or organs, saying that they should be burned or buried instead. Kiselyov later was appointed by Putin to head Russia’s largest news agency.

Ivan Okhlobystin, a popular actor and former priest, told his fans that he would gladly “burn them (gays) alive,” calling them “a real danger to my children.”

Gays face various problems in many other parts of Eastern Europe, including the Balkans, a traditionally conservative region where anti-gay violence has been on the rise. Assaults and harassment have coincided with the strengthening of right-wing groups amid persistent economic problems.

Conservative groups in Croatia, backed by the Roman Catholic Church, forced a referendum in December to define marriage as a union of a man and a woman only. Voters overwhelmingly supported the measure, dealing a blow to the liberal government and triggering criticism from the European Union, which had just admitted Croatia.

In Serbia, a gay pride march in 2010 resulted in daylong violence, with more than 100 people injured. Planned marches in subsequent years were canceled because of extremist threats.

Montenegro held its first pride event last year in the coastal town of Budva. Hundreds of police officers fought right-wing extremists who sought to disrupt the gathering, and participants were eventually evacuated in boats.

MIDDLE EAST:

Across most of the Middle East, homosexual relations are taboo, though not all nations choose to prosecute gays and punishments vary.

The pervasiveness of religion in everyday life, along with strict cultural norms, plays a major factor in how Middle Eastern societies view homosexuality. The common Arabic word used to refer to gays is derogatory and its actual meaning translates as “abnormal” or “queer.”

Same-sex relations are punishable by death in the Muslim-majority nations of Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

In Yemen, more than 30 people suspected of being of gay were killed by unidentified assailants in the past two years, many in southern provinces where al-Qaida is active. Iraq also has experienced a surge of killings of gays.

In Egypt, consensual same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited, but other laws – those prohibiting “debauchery” or “shameless public acts” – have been used to imprison gay men.

Public acceptance of gays in Israel and Lebanon is higher than the rest of the region, according to a Pew Research Center study released last year. Lebanon and Israel promote gay tourism, and publisher Nabil Mroueh says his company in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, has translated nearly a dozen English books about homosexuality into Arabic.

Among most Palestinians, homosexuality is generally disdained, and gays tend to be secretive about their social lives. In the West Bank, a 1951 Jordanian law banning homosexual acts remains in effect, as does a ban in Gaza passed by British authorities in 1936.

In Israel, by contrast, gays serve openly in the military and in parliament, and many popular artists and entertainers are gay.

Assessing the region as a whole, activists take heart from modest changes – even it’s simply the inclusion of gay rights in broader discussions about human rights in the Middle East.

“The situation doesn’t look good,” said Hossein Alizadeh, a Middle East specialist with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “But that doesn’t mean we stop working.”

Amnesty International urges end to anti-gay arrests in Nigeria

Amnesty International on Jan. 15 called on the Nigerian government to release the more than 10 people arrested under a new law that the group said “runs roughshod over a range of human rights and discriminates based on real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity.

The arrests were made in several Nigerian states, including Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Oyo states after President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law.

“Those arrested under this draconian new legislation must be released immediately and the charges against them dropped. Locking someone up for their sexual orientation violates the most basic human rights standards,” said Makmid Kamara, Amnesty International’s Nigeria researcher, in a news release. “Reports that the police in one state are apparently drawing up lists of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community to target are extremely worrying.” 

This law is a throwback to the worst of the military rule-era when a range of human rights were treated with contempt, said Amnesty.

Those arrested under the new law included five allegedly gay men who were taken into custody in in Ibadan, Oyo state. In the southeastern city of Awka, Anambra state, six persons were reportedly arrested and detained by the police.

Human rights defenders told Amnesty International that the arrests and intimidation of LGBTI people in Nigeria is expanding across the country. 

Human rights defenders also told Amnesty International that police in northern Bauchi state have drawn up a list of 167 people targeted for arrest based on their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. 

An assistant commissioner of police in Bauchi confirmed to Amnesty that the police have a list of suspected LGBTI people in Bauchi as part of their “profiling of criminals,” He told the human rights group, “The police have a list of suspected gay people under surveillance. We use the list to conduct our surveillance but the names on the list are not up to 167. We also use it to find out who their victims are.” 

Amnesty International is calling on the authorities to stop all further arrests. 

The law criminalizes freedom of speech, association, and assembly and it criminalizes the activities of many human rights and civil society organizations. It provides for a ten year prison sentence for anyone who supports, meets with, or forms a group advocating for human rights for LGBTI people.