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Ghanaian Court Denies Bail For 21 Activists Arrested At LGBTQ+ Conference

Activists have questioned the legality of the arrests as the participants at the conference were discussing how to record and report human rights violations.

Update (June 9, 2021): A Ghanaian court denied bail to 21 activists who were arrested last month at an LGTBQ+ conference for what police said was an unlawful assembly, according to Reuters. 

Julia Selman Ayetey, a lawyer for the activists, told Reuters that they were denied bail, without giving further details. The activists had already been denied bail at the Ho High Court before going o the Circuit Court.

On May 20, the group of activists was arrested at a hotel in Ho City, as Blavity previously reported. Ghanaian police issued a statement accusing them of spreading propaganda on behalf of the LGBT community with documents that included titles like "Coming out" and "All about Trans.”

As in many African countries, engaging in gay sex is a felony offense in Ghana. According to the African Human Rights Campaign (AHRC), 75 countries around the globe criminalize LGBTQ+ people, and 33 of those countries are in Africa. 

“The press teamed up with the police to storm the meeting location, started taking images, took their belongings and arrested them,” human rights group Rightify Ghana said, according to The Guardian. 

Local advocacy group LGBT+ Rights Ghana condemned the arrests of the activists, calling into question the legality of their detainment. The organization said that the activists had met for a workshop on how to record and report human rights violations.

Alex Kofi Donkor, the founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, said the persecution and discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in the African country have grown in 2021. 

“It is very, very disturbing – also for the fact that the police are now inciting the public against Ghanaians. It’s already a vulnerable situation for LGBTQ+ people in Ghana,” he said.

Last month, the Ghanain LGBTQ+ collective organized a $10,000 GoFundMe campaign to help support the release of the arrested individuals, Blavity reported. 

Despite outrage from activists to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said previously that same-sex marriage will not be legalized under his term in office.

Original (May 26, 2021): Activist groups are advocating for the release of 21 people who were accosted and arrested in Ghana during an LGBTQ+ conference last week. 

The event, which took place in Ho City in the country's southeastern region, was designed to train attendees on paralegal services for vulnerable groups, including documenting instances of abuse and how to provide better support as legal aides. 

“Some LGBTQI members were gathering in the region for a conference aimed at championing their activities,” local police spokesman Sergeant Prince Dogbatse said, France 24 reported. “We went to the conference grounds. We arrested 21 suspected LGBTQI members.

Currently, the 21 arrestees, who mostly identify as women, remain in custody for “unlawful assembly.”

The arrest has led to a public outcry, inspiring the hashtag #ReleaseThe21.

“The press teamed up with the police to storm the meeting location, started taking images, took their belongings and arrested them,” Rightify Ghana, a human rights organization, said, according to The Guardian. 

According to the African Human Rights Campaign (AHRC), 75 countries around the globe criminalize LGBTQ+ people, and of that number, 33 are in Africa, including island nations. Seven countries in the world impose the death penalty, and 4 of them, Mauritania, Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria are African nations. 

In Ghana, engaging in gay sex is a felony offense.

Alex Kofi Donkor, the founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an advocacy and aid organization based in Accra, said the persecution and abuse of LGBTQ+ people in the country have increased dramatically this year.

“There is no law preventing advocates or LGBTQ+ people from existing or gathering. It’s a constitutional right,” Donkor said.

“It is very, very disturbing – also for the fact that the police are now inciting the public against Ghanaians. It’s already a vulnerable situation for LGBTQ+ people in Ghana,” he added.

On Sunday, the LGBTQ+ consortium of Ghana created a GoFundMe to help support the release of the arrested individuals and has raised over $6,000 with a $10,000 goal.

“The anti-LGBTI sentiment is so high in Ghana that not only is this ignored when it comes to LGBTI individuals in the country, individuals and gatherings become targets, as can be noted from these and prior arrests,” the HRC wrote on their website.

Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said in the past that same-sex marriage will not be legalized under his presidency, despite calls to protect LGBTQ+ citizens.

“I have said it before, and let me stress it again, that it will not be under the Presidency of Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo that same-sex marriage will be legal,” he said, according to News Ghana. 

After an LGBTQ+ community center in Ghana was shut down in February, celebrities with Ghanaian heritage including Idris Elba and Naomi Campbell penned a letter to Akufo-Addo urging for his support of LGBTQ+ rights, as Blavity previously reported.

“We have watched with profound concern as you have had to question the safety of your vital work at the LGBT+ Rights Ghana Centre in Accra, and feared for your personal wellbeing and security. It is unacceptable to us that you feel unsafe,” the letter read.

“As prominent and powerful advocates for this great country, we are beseeching His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, and political/cultural leaders to create a pathway for allyship, protection and support. We petition for inclusivity which will make the nation even greater and even stronger,” it continued.

The arrested group remains in custody and is scheduled to appear in court on June 4.

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Sìmone Stancil is a Blavity News Writer, actress, and travel enthusiast. Connect with Simone today!