Nigerian police arrested 53 young men for celebrating a gay wedding in the major northern city of Zaria, located in Kaduna State on Saturday (15 April).

Prosecutor Mannir Nasir told a magistrates' court on Wednesday (19 April) that the men were being charged for "conspiracy, unlawful assembly and belonging to a gang of unlawful society," according to the Premium Times newspaper. The arrests took place at the Zaria Motel.

"On April 15, 2017 at about 2100 hours a team of policemen led by DSP Muhammad Lawal-Mashi arrested and brought to police station 53 persons," said Nasir.

"The arrested persons included; Jibril Abdullahi, Sagir Abubakar, Anas Mohammed, Mustapha Ababukar, Musa Ibrahim and Suleiman Usman among others, all of various addresses.

"Information reached the police that these group of persons conspired to celebrate a gay marriage at Zaria Motel between one Faruk and Sanusi both at large," he added.

The 53 men – who were reportedly detained for more than 24 hours – pleaded not guilty to the charges. Defence lawyer Yunusa Umar said most of the men are students.

According to the Bisi Alimi Foundation, which advocates for the rights of LGBT people in Nigeria, "simply witnessing or aiding a same-sex couple's marriage or supporting the registration of LGBT-affirming organisations is punishable by 10 years in prison."

The next hearing will take place on 8 May.

In 2014, then-President Goodluck Jonathan signed the Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill (SSMPA) into law. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Act "effectively criminalises lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

In addition, sexual activity between same-sex people is illegal under federal law.

The UK government's foreign travel advice states: "The 'Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill' allows lengthy prison sentences for those entering into a same-sex marriage, those witnessing, aiding or abetting a same-sex marriage, the operation and support to gay clubs, societies and organisations and the public display of same-sex relationships."