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Ghanaian LGBTQ+ activists arrested and abused for weeks on end sue government

Danai Nesta Kupemba June 23, 2022
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LGBT Ghana groups are suing the government. (Credit: Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

LGBTQ + groups in Ghana are banding together to sue the government after 21 queer activists were arrested and inhumanely tortured while in custody last year.

On 20 May, 2021, police raided a human rights training workshop on intersex rights in the Ho, Volta region of the country.

The 21 people in attendance, who became known as the HO21, were all arrested by police and charged with “unlawful assembly”. T

hey were detained for almost a month before being released. In that time, the HO21 were denied bail multiple times and endured humiliation and abuse at the hands of the authorities and other prisoners because of their sexuality.

A year on, on 14 June, two separate suits were filed in the Ghana High Court against the Inspector General of Police and the Attorney General of Ghana for violating the claimants’ human rights, according to Mamba Online.

A report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) described the horrific conditions and abuse the HO21 had to face.

One of the HO21, who is intersex, stated that she “was stripped naked and tortured in police custody,”.

She added that officials “forcefully examined her genitals, shoved her into a male cell, insisted that she was not a woman and encouraged male prisoners to rape her”. Two male inmates stopped the others from harming her.

The HO21 were granted bail after almost a month of being in police custody on 11 June, 2021.

In August 2021 the case against them was dropped due to insufficient evidence, but the damage had been done. Most of the HO21 were outed to their friends and family following the incident.

There are two lawsuits filed against the government for violation of human rights. (Credit: John Ochieng/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

In the HRW report, one other detainee said: “My life has never been the same again, even now. Because I’m [in] hiding … I’ve become something else [in the eyes] of my family. Even some of my friends, that I knew when I was back home, they’ve all changed towards me. The insults I’ve been getting, my husband neglecting me, even my parents. It’s not easy for me…. It’s not easy at all.”

The first suit is on behalf of three of the HO21 detainees who want the government to answer for violating their freedom of assembly, discrimination, unlawful arrest and detention and malicious prosecution.

Their suit seeks to invoke Resolution 275 of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights which “expresses grave concern about increasing violence and other human rights violations, including murder, rape, assault, in respect of persons based on their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity”.

The African Commission adopted this in 2014 and called on African nations to address LGBT+ violence and prejudice, many have not taken heed.

The second suit is on behalf of the intersex woman who was harassed and assaulted because of her intersex identity. She was forced to flee the country after the fact.

The activists are being supported by the Queer Ghana Education Fund (QuGEF)/Coalition For SupportGH, along with other LGBTQ+ groups and the Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA).

Ghana continues to have a hard-line attitude towards LGBTQ+ people in the country making it impossible and difficult for many of them to live in the country.

At present same-sex relations are a punishable offence in Ghana with a prison sentence of up to three years. However homophobic laws could worsen if the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill is passed in parliament.

This bill would criminalise anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+ and could also make advocating for LGBT+ rights an offence with a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

More: Ghana

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