The trial of 18 men accused of dressing up as women has started in a Sharia court in northern Nigeria.
The men were arrested last year in a hotel room in the city of Bauchi.
Prosecutors read out a letter from New York based Human Rights Watch calling for the court to respect the men’s right to “free association”.
The men were originally accused of sodomy, which could lead to the death penalty under Sharia, but the charges were reduced.
Prosecutor Yusuf Adamu said HRW was “grossly misinformed” about the case and invited a representative of the organisation to attend the trial.
The case was adjourned until further notice by the judge.
The HRW letter was sent to the Federal Ministry of Justice in the capital, Abuja, who forwarded it on to the Bauchi state governor.
The letter said the Nigerian government had signed up to two conventions that enshrined the right to free association and freedom from harassment.
“Human Rights Watch is grossly misinformed. This case is not about the right to free association,” Mr Yusuf said.
“Under Sharia law a man must dress like a man and woman must dress like a woman.”
The 18 are charged with indecent dressing and vagrancy.
When the letter was read out the defendants looked relieved and happy, the BBC’s Shehu Saulawa in Bauchi says.
But prosecutors have asked the court to write a response to HRW which could now delay the case.
The report fails to say what penalty the men face. But here’s a sobering report from Reuters, Feb. 15:
LAGOS – Six people convicted by Islamic sharia courts in a northern Nigerian state are awaiting death by stoning, while 46 others are waiting for amputation, the official News Agency of Nigeria reported on Friday.
The men on death row in Bauchi state include a 52-year-old sentenced in 2004 for getting his teenage step-daughter pregnant and another who was sentenced in 2002 for having sex 13 times with his friend’s wife, the agency said.
The report did not say how many people were facing such penalties in 11 other northern Nigerian states that have criminal courts using sharia law. Such data is not collated centrally.
The Bauchi convicts awaiting the amputation of their hands include a 46-year-old trader, Husseini Maidoya, who was convicted in 2002 for hacking off the leg of his wife after accusing her of unfaithfulness.
A sharia court had then ruled that Maidoya be amputated without the application of anaesthesia.
The sentences have not been executed because the state government is yet to ratify them, the news agency said, quoting the acting secretary of the Bauchi state Sharia Consultative Council, Ishiaku Tijjani.
Bauchi is one of 12 states in Nigeria’s mainly Islamic north that adopted a harsh sharia-based criminal code eight years ago. The move alienated large Christian minorities and sparked bouts of sectarian violence that killed thousands.
Punishments have been rare since 2000 as several of the sentences, including those of six women condemned to death by stoning for adultery, were overturned on appeal.
But one man who was convicted of multiple-murder in Katsina state was executed in 2003. Another convicted of theft in Zamfara state had his left hand amputated in 2001.