LGBT+ rights are heavily suppressed in Ghana. (Creative Commons)
A court in Ghana has delayed a vital ruling on a bail application for the 21 LGBT+ activists detained in what United Nations experts have dubbed an “arbitrary” arrest.
In a high-profile bust that has spurred international criticism, the queer Ghaninians were detained by authorities for attending an LGBT+ rights training session in the southeastern city of Ho last month.
The activists, which included 16 women and five men, were arrested for “unlawful assembly”, the force said, who vowed to “get to the bottom of this issue”.
On Friday (4 June), a Ho district court judge pushed back a ruling on the defendants’ bail application to 8 June, meaning the group will have to spend at least four more days in detention, Reuters reported.
“We cannot condone a situation where people attend a workshop on rights only to be arrested and have those very human rights they were learning about be trampled upon,” said Julia Selman Ayetey, a lawyer for the defendants.
The dubious charges have touched off an outpouring of frustration and anger among human rights groups, with a panel of UN human rights experts emphatically condemning the arrest.
“We are deeply concerned by the arrests of the human rights defenders,” the experts said in a news release on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“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.
“Human rights defenders play a key role in protecting vulnerable groups from violence and discrimination and empowering them to claim their human rights.
“Ghana should ensure that no one is criminalised for defending the fundamental rights of LGBT+ people.”
“Detention on discriminatory grounds, including for combating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is arbitrary by its own nature and violates international human rights law.
“The government of Ghana must release them immediately and unconditionally.”
In Ghana, lawmakers and law enforcement have staked out a slew of attacks against the LGBT+ community this year, where the bright line has increasingly emerged that the country’s three-year-long imprisonment for gay sex simply isn’t enough.
A bloc of some 30 MPs have formed the “Believers Against LGBTI+” and are jockeying to criminalise the mere “advocacy” of queer rights.
Meanwhile, a near-identical police crackdown took place in April, where officers raided a home in Obomeng, Kwahu South – all because they suspected a “lesbian wedding” was taking place there.
Only months before, the police stormed the offices of one of the country’s few LGBT+ rights groups. Both local and national security agents ransacked the office, forcing members to flee and “go into hiding for their safety“.