Forty-seven Nigerian men pleaded innocent on Wednesday to a charge of public displays of affection with members of the same sex, an offence that carries a 10-year jail term.

Homosexuality is outlawed in many socially conservative African societies where some religious groups brand it a corrupting Western import.

The Nigerian men, who appeared at a court in the commercial capital Lagos, were among 57 arrested in a police raid on a hotel in the impoverished Egbeda district of the city in 2018.

Police said they were being “initiated” into a gay club, but the accused said they were attending a birthday party.

The trial is a test case for a law banning gay marriage, punishable by a 14-year jail term, and same-sex “amorous relationships”. It caused international outcry when it came into force under former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014.

Nobody has yet been convicted under the law, prosecution and defence lawyers in the case told Reuters. But Human Rights Watch and other activists say it has been used to extort bribes from suspects in exchange for not pursuing charges.