Rights groups have condemned the arrest of 21 people by Ghanaian police for “unlawful assembly” and promoting an LGBTQ+ agenda, in the latest move against sexual minorities in the country.
Police have held 21 people since Friday for “advocating LGBTQ activities” at an event the previous day in Ho city, in the eastern Volta region.
Several rights groups called the arrests illegal, saying those detained did not have access to legal representation before they were remanded to court on Friday, and that some suffered medical illnesses and needed treatment for trauma.
The arrests came after a group of journalists reportedly descended on an event by the rights group Rightify Ghana, which was held to provide training for activists and paralegals when supporting LGBTQ+ people.
“The press teamed up with the police to storm the meeting location, started taking images, took their belongings and arrested them,” Rightify Ghana said in a statement.
The targeting and abuse of LGBTQ+ people in Ghana has sharply risen this year, said Alex Kofi Donkor, the founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, an advocacy and aid organisation based in Accra.
“The [event] was to train them on paralegal services for vulnerable groups – how we can document issues of abuse, and how best these trained paralegals can provide support,” Donkor said.
“There is no law preventing advocates or LGBTQ+ people from existing or gathering. It’s a constitutional right.”
The arrests in Ho are the latest example of authorities and powerful figures denouncing gay and queer people in the west African country. Activists have lamented a rise in attacks and abuse this year.
Same-sex relationships are illegal in Ghana, yet while prosecutions are rare, rights groups say it has led to widespread targeting and extortion of vulnerable people and anyone suspected to be gay or queer.
A statement by the police on Friday calling members of the public to come forward with information about LGBTQ+ activities amounted to “a witch-hunt”, 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 said. Donkor added that he received death threats when a community space providing help for gay and queer people, which had opened in January, was shut down in March following an outcry from politicians, conservative and religious groups.
In March, the actor Idris Elba, the Vogue magazine editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, the model Naomi Campbell and the UK Labour MP Diane Abbott led a list of prominent figures signing an open letter condemning the closure and in support of Ghana’s LGBTQ+ community.