Ho, Ghana: A Ghana court kept a group of LGBTQ activists in custody on Friday, their lawyers said, in a case that advisors to the UN’s Human Rights Council likened to arbitrary detention.
Gay sex is a crime in the West African country and members of the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, transgender, queer, and intersex) community face widespread discrimination.
The suspects in the recent case — 16 women and five men — were arrested for “unlawful assembly” last month in Ho, in Ghana’s southeastern Volta region.
They were remanded in custody and after their arrest, the hashtag #ReleaseThe21 was trending on social media.
“The judge hasn’t given a ruling, and has adjourned to give the ruling next week,” Julia Selman Ayetey, one of the group’s attorneys said, after a hearing on Friday.
“But the bail has been denied previously, so the prosecution can continue with their investigation.”
She said she hoped bail would be granted at the next hearing on Tuesday.
Police said they had detained the activists while they attended a conference.
Rights group Rightify Ghana said the meeting was about empowering LGBTQI activists, including giving them para-legal training to document rights abuses.
An expert panel advising the UN’s Human Rights Council called on Friday for their release, expressing “deep” concern about detention that it said was based on discriminatory grounds, including sexual orientation.
“All evidence available to us points to the fact that they were detained while they were peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association,” their statement said.
“The Government of Ghana must release them immediately and unconditionally.”
In February, Ghana security forces shut down the office of an LGBTQ rights group in the capital Accra after politicians and religious leaders called for its closure.
The rights controversy comes at a sensitive time for President Nana Akufo-Addo, who wants to attract African-Americans and the Ghanaian diaspora through his program “The Year of Return”, which encourages people to return to their ancestral country.
The Ghanian leader reaffirmed his position in March, saying: “It will not be under the presidency of Nana Addo Dankwah Akufo-Addo that same-sex marriage will be legal”.
Actor Idris Elba, model Naomi Campbell, and designer Virgil Abloh are among those who signed an open letter of support for LGBTQ Ghanaians earlier this year, expressing “profound concern” about the situation they face.