Calls for release of LGBTQIA+ advocates in Ghana after 21 arrested

Twenty-one LGBTQIA+ people were arrested by armed police in the city of Ho in Ghana on Thursday 20th May, prompting calls for their release from the local LGBTQIA+ community.

The people arrested were representatives of LGBQTIA+ civil society organizations holding a training session on protecting vulnerable LGBTQIA+ people from discrimination. Reports reveal group have been charged with “unlawful assembly”, bail has been denied, and they are due to appear before a judge on Friday 4th June.

Same-sex relations between men are criminalized in Ghana under Section 104 (1)(b) of the Criminal Offences Act, which prescribes up to 3 years in prison for those found guilty of “unnatural carnal knowledge”.

The charge rendered has been of “unlawful assembly”, though Article 21 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and association for all.

“The arrest of LGBTIQ people holding a lawful, private gathering about protecting and supporting LGBTIQ people in Ghana is shocking, and unacceptable,” Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International said.

“The basic human rights to freedom of assembly and association, enshrined in the country’s Constitution, should not be limited by anti-LGBTIQ opinions of bystanders or the police.

“Those detained should be released immediately, and an investigation into how such a blatant violation of rights could take place has to be held.”

Local organizations highlight that this is a clear incident of institutionalized queerphobia, and are calling on authorities for an immediate release of those detained.

Executive Director of Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa Davis Mac-Iyalla says he is saddened the Ghana police would act on a false alarm.

“The human rights defenders arrested and jailed did nothing unlawful, they were exercising their freedom of assembly and association,” Mac-Iyalla said.

“This illegal arrest is a reflection of the high level of discrimination against minorities in Ghana.”

“I call on the government to condemn the arrest and order the release of the human rights defenders. I also call on religious leaders and all civil society locally and internationally to add their voices to this call.”

Speaking to CNN, police spokesperson Sergeant Prince Dogbatse said unlawful assembly is ‘frowned upon’.

“There is freedom of expression and all that, but our criminal offenses act prohibits unlawful assembly,” Dogbatse said.

“We have arrested these persons and preferred the charge of unlawful assembly against them. So we will allow the court to make a determination on the matter.”

Leigh Andrew Hill

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