Activist groups in Ghana are campaigning for the release of 21 people arrested last week for attending an LGBTQ event in the southeastern city of Ho. Sixteen women and four men were arrested on Thursday after the police stormed a hotel where a conference for LGBTQI people was being held.
“Some LGBTQI members were gathering in the region for a conference aimed at championing their activities,” local police spokesman Sergeant Prince Dogbatse said. “We went to the conference grounds. We arrested 21 suspected LGBTQI members.”
A court in the Ho district on Friday ordered the accused, who were charged with “unlawful assembly,” to be remanded in police custody. They will appear in court on June 4.
Since their arrest, an online campaign with the hashtag #ReleaseThe21 has gone viral on social media. “We are calling on the Ghana Police Service to #ReleaseThe21 persons arrested… for holding a training program,” rights group Rightify Ghana wrote on Twitter.
The group said the conference, which has been described as an “unlawful assembly,” was held “to empower some LGBTQI persons on various topics including training some as paralegals to document and report human rights violations being experienced by LGBTQI Ghanaians.”
It said the press “teamed up with the police to storm the meeting location, started taking images, took their belongings and arrested them.”
In Ghana, gay sex is a criminal offence and punishable by up to three years in jail. Though no one has been prosecuted for same-sex relations in years, human rights activists say LGBT+ people are discriminated against, and often face death threats and abuse.
In February, a community centre for LGBTQ+ people in the West African country was shut down by security forces just three weeks after opening. Religious leaders, politicians and anti-gay organizations had called on the government to close the centre, which was operated by local charity LGBT+ Rights Ghana.
Ghanaian president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said same-sex marriage will not be legalized under his presidency. “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.
Actor Idris Elba and model Naomi Campbell recently joined some 65 other British celebrities, designers and politicians, mostly of Ghanaian heritage, in signing an open letter in support of gay rights in Ghana.
The 67 signatories of the open letter published on social media said they were worried about the developments in Ghana and called on the country’s president and other political leaders to provide protection to the LGBTQ+ community.
Although some African countries are slowly accepting same-sex marriages, many are still very categorical in their denunciation of the idea. Some have even made it a capital offence punishable by death – Mauritania, Sudan, southern Somalia and northern Nigeria.