Ghana’s LGBTQ community has started an online campaign, demanding those who were arrested by security forces last week to be released from police custody and all charges dropped.
A #ReleaseThe21 hashtag was initially launched by organizer but was later suspected of having been blocked Tuesday on Twitter, a development which saw Rightify Ghana, the organization which hosted the May 20 event, pushing forward with the launch of the #ReleaseAllThe21 hashtag.
— Rightify Ghana (@RightifyGhana) May 25, 2021
Alex Kofi Donkor, the head of the LGBT+ Rights Ghana group, told CNN that a female executive of his organization was among those arrested at the conference, which he says was “invaded” by journalists shortly before police barged in and arrested most of the attendees.
“LGBTQ persons continuously experience indiscriminate arrest and discrimination in Ghana because of their known or perceived sexual orientation… so some organizations chose to train some individuals within their various localities on human rights laws that exist in Ghana and how they can protect themselves and deal with issues of abuses when they arise within their local spaces,” Donkor said.
“The event started at 9 a.m. [local time] on Thursday [May 20] with about 25 persons in attendance. Two hours later, some journalists invaded the space and started taking photos and videos,” he said, adding that police “also took away banners and flip charts that were used during the training session.”
Section 104 of Ghana's Criminal Offences Act criminalizes "unnatural carnal knowledge," which is described as "sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal." Individuals convicted of the offense face between five and 25 years in prison.
A spokesman for the regional police of Ghana, Sergeant Prince Dogbatse, has expressed that the 21 individuals were being charged for unlawful assembly, and that no charges have yet been made concerning their affiliation.
“There is freedom of expression and all that, but our criminal offenses act prohibits unlawful assembly,” Dogbatse told CNN on Monday. “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,” he added.
A release from the Ghana Police Service, which is controlled by the Ministry of Interior, says authorities confiscated several books and flyers with titles such as “Coming Out,” “All About Trans,”and “All About Intersex,” among others, under suspicion that the Ghanaians were “advocating LGBTQI activities.”
— African Queer Youth (@AfricanYouthQI) May 22, 2021
Since the arrests, many activists and human rights organizations have taken to calling out Ghana’s government for what they deem to be homophobic attacks on a minority community.
The US Department of State called on Ghana's people to preserve the human rights of members of the LGBTQ community in a statement on Monday.
“We are monitoring the situation closely,” a Department of State spokesperson said. “We urge national leaders in Ghana to uphold constitutional human rights protections and to adhere to international human rights obligations and commitments for all individuals. This includes members of the LGBTQI+ community.”
The detainees are currently being held in four separate police stations around Ho with no bail. On May 24, the Alliance for Equality and Diversity (AfED) Ghana paid solidarity visits to the police stations, and updated the public on their conditions in a Twitter post.
— AfED Ghana (@AfedGhana) May 24, 2021
The detainees are scheduled to appear in court on June 4. This is the latest in what some say has been a recent crackdown on LGBTQ rights groups, and comes during a time where Ghana has opened its borders to African Americans and other members of the diaspora.