Social Justice

21 People Arrested In Ghana For Attending LGBTQ+ Conference

Activists & allies are now uniting under the hashtag #ReleaseThe21.

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In 2021 there are still 69 countries that have laws that criminalise homosexuality, including Ghana, a country that has made headlines in recent month for its persecution of the LGBTQ+ communities living there.

In Ghana, homosexuality is punishable with up to three years imprisonment and activists have outlined that violence against LGBTQ+ communities is deeply ingrained in the country’s ruling institutions, such as the government, church, and the press. LGBTQ+ rights groups in the Ghana have observed that targeted abuse and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people has got worse in 2021. On May 24, Alex Kofi Donkor, the founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an advocacy and aid organisation based in Accra told the Guardian, “the police are now inciting the public against Ghanaians. It’s already a vulnerable situation for LGBTQ+ people in Ghana.”

What Is Happening To LGBTQ+ Groups In Ghana?

Arrests At An LGBTQ+ Conference

On May 20, 21 people were arrested while attending a conference designed to help activists and paralegals protect LGBTQ+ people who are coming up against discrimination. According to CNN, at least 16 women and four men were arrested when journalists and the regional police invaded the hotel where the conference was taking place.

Alex Kofi Donkor told the outlet, “The event started at 9 a.m. on Thursday with about 25 persons in attendance. Two hours later, some journalists invaded the space and started taking photos and videos. The police came almost immediately and arrested most of the attendees. They also took away banners and flip charts that were used during the training session.”

The people have been held in police custody for “advocating LGBTQ activities.” There’s no law that prevents LGBTQ+ advocates from meeting but the 21 people have been charged with “unlawful assembly” and are set to remain in police custody until they appear in court on June 4.

Following the arrests, activists and allies around the globe have united under the campaign #ReleaseThe21. “We are calling on the Ghana Police Service to #ReleaseThe21 persons arrested… for holding a training programme,” human rights group Rightify Ghana wrote on Twitter.

One supporter wrote, “Just because it hasn’t reached you doesn’t mean it ain’t gonna reach you, treat people the way you wanna be treated. Let’s hate less and love more.” Another said, “Yesterday, I drove four hours to visit the Ho 21 in jail. I'm so broken. I can't sleep. I randomly start crying. I'm still processing so much. That could have been any one of us who work on the frontlines.”

Donkor told CNN that he hopes that global pressure on the Ghanaian officials will help free the 21 prisoners. “We are hoping that the government of Ghana, individuals, human rights advocates, and activists in this country will rise and speak against the injustice and the abuse that the police have meted out and continues to mete out towards the LGBTQ community,” he said.

Raid On LGBTQ+ Centre In Accra

Sadly, these arrests are just the the latest in attacks on LGBTQ+ communities in Ghana. At the end of January 2021, LGBT+ Rights Ghana established the country's first LGBTQ+ centre in Accra. It was set to offer resources such as counselling, workshops, and paralegal services.

Sadly, within weeks of opening in a non-disclosed location, the new office had been raided. The organisation posted the news to Instagram on Feb. 24 alongside footage of the raid.

"This morning, our office was raided by National Security. A few days ago, traditional leaders threatened to burn down our office but the police did not help," they said in a post to Instagram. "At this moment, we no longer have access to our safe space and our safety is being threatened. We call on all human rights organizations, and allies to speak out against this attack," they added.

Per Reuters, Catholic church groups, politicians, and anti-gay rights organisations called on the government to shut down the centre, with some anti-gay organisations calling for the arrests of those who attended the centre's launch.

Speaking about the closure to Newsbeat Linda, a trans activist said she’d been harassed out of her home. "Everybody is running for shelter, finding places to hide, because people are being attacked, abused on the street,” she said.

“This morning, our office was raided by National Security. A few days ago, traditional leaders threatened to burn down our office but the police did not help,” they said in a post to Instagram. “At this moment, we no longer have access to our safe space and our safety is being threatened. We call on all human rights organizations, and allies to speak out against this attack,” they added.

Per Reuters, Catholic church groups, politicians, and anti-gay rights organisations called on the government to shut down the centre, with some anti-gay organisations calling for the arrests of those who attended the centre's launch.

Speaking about the closure to Newsbeat Linda, a trans activist said she’d been harassed out of her home. "Everybody is running for shelter, finding places to hide, because people are being attacked, abused on the street,” she said.

Following the raid, celebrities such as Idris Elba, Michaela Coel, and Naomi Campbell joined forces to express their solidarity with the LGBTQ+ communities in Ghana. “To our Ghanaian LGBTQIA+ family: We see you and we hear you,” their open letter reads, “We are in awe of your strength, your bravery and your audacity to be true to who you are even when it is dangerous to do so.”

How To Support LGBTQ+ Groups In Ghana

For LGBTQ+ people in Ghana, the arrest of the advocates on May 20 speaks to the ongoing discrimination, violence, and censorship they face in the country. Ghana is a largely religious and conservative country and anti-gay rhetoric is common at a government level. As Reuters explains, while Ghana has not prosecuted anyone for same-sex relations in years, “LGBT+ people face frequent abuse and discrimination, including blackmail and attacks.”

So how to help here in the UK?

Donate

Via GoFundMe, LGBT+ Rights Ghana has set up a Community Support Fund “designed to support and empower members of our beloved LGBTIQ community who are financially constrained in Ghana.”

As the organisation explains, the initiative is "a long term support system intended to address the struggles of a fast growing LGBTIQ community in Ghana'' and aims to "ultimately support a wider community through business initiatives and other capacity building auxiliaries." You can donate to LGBT+ Right Ghana via this GoFundMe page.

Similarly, Outright International works to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world. You can donate to them through their website.

Use The Hashtag #ReleaseThe21

If you aren’t in a position to donate money then sharing accurate information and using the hashtag #ReleaseThe21 is also helpful. It doesn’t only raise the profile of the cause but ensures that as many people understand what the LGBTQ+ communities in Ghana are experiencing. You can follow African Equality Centre and LGBTQ+ Rights Ghana to stay up to date with what’s going on.

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