Ghana: Anti-gay bill seeks prison terms for LGBT+ people

Monday, 2 August 2021 15:37 GMT

People who were detained by police on suspicion of promoting an LGBT+ agenda at an unlawful assembly are escorted by police officers out the court after their bail hearing at the Ho court in Ho, Volta Region-Ghana June 4, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko

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A new draft law in the West African nation proposes jail time for those who identify as LGBT+, and for anyone who offers assistance to the LGBT+ community.

A bill in Ghana that would make it a crime to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender or to advocate for LGBT+ rights is expected to be presented before parliament on Monday for its first reading.

The Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021, has sparked outrage and fear in the West African nation's LGBT+ community, with campaigners saying it could heighten widespread persecution and violence.

Here are some key details and background about the controversial proposal:

What is the current law regarding LGBT+ people in Ghana?

Under a 1960 British colonial-era law, "unnatural carnal knowledge" - widely interpreted as sexual intercourse between men - is punishable with up to three years in jail.

Ghana has not prosecuted anyone for gay sex in years, but LGBT+ people face frequent abuse and discrimination, including blackmail and attacks, human rights researchers say.

It is not a crime to be LGBT+ or to promote LGBT+ rights under current legislation.

Why was the bill introduced now?

The bill is sponsored by eight lawmakers from the opposition and ruling parties who came together following the opening of the country's first LGBT+ community centre in January.

The opening of the centre sparked uproar from church organisations, politicians and anti-gay groups, and authorities shut it down three weeks later.

This has led to a crackdown by authorities - including the arrest of 21 LGBT+ activists in May - and an increase in homophobic abuse from the public in recent months, community members say.

The lawmakers, who are led by Samuel Nartey George from the National Democratic Congress party, say homosexuality is a perversion and LGBT+ activities threaten Ghanaian family values, and society in general.

What are the main provisions in the bill?

The draft law makes it a crime punishable by up to five years imprisonment to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, pansexual and non-binary - someone who does not identify as male or female.

Advocating for the LGBT+ community, sympathising or offering any assistance such as financial or medical support to LGBT+ people or organisations would also be an offence punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

Media companies, online platforms and accounts that publish information deemed to support LGBT+ activities or encourage children to explore any gender or sex outside of the binary categories of male and female could also be prosecuted.

On the other hand, the draft law promotes so-called conversion therapy by allowing flexible sentencing for an LGBT+ person if they request "treatment".

Other articles include outlawing "intentional cross-dressing" and "amorous relations" between people of the same sex in public, and making it a citizen's duty to report any LGBT+ persons or activities to authorities.

It also proposes amending Ghana's existing extradition law to allow for the deportation of LGBT+ Ghanaians living overseas.

How have people responded to the bill?

LGBT+ rights groups in Ghana have expressed shock and alarm over the provisions of the draft law, saying that it would strip gay, bisexual and transgender people of all their rights - and increase homophobic persecution and violence.

LBGT+ people report being scared and have already begun to restrict their movements and avoid public places such as markets where they may be targeted, say community organisations.

Campaigners have launched a campaign on social media called #KillTheBill to raise awareness and also an online petition to stop the draft law, which has garnered nearly 4,000 signatures since it was launched on Sunday.

Religious groups such as the Coalition of Muslim Groups in Ghana have welcomed the bill, saying it is necessary to prevent the dilution of cultural values and beliefs in Ghanaian society. 

Last week, traditional leaders from Ghana's Waala community - to which about 100,000 people belong - announced a ban on LGBT+ activities, saying they did not want to wait for the bill to be passed. 

What are the chances the bill could be passed?

Some political analysts say there is enough cross-party support in the largely conservative Christian nation for the bill to become law.

However, the bill could face major hurdles, including pressure from international donors and foreign partners as well as legal challenges over whether it violates Ghana's constitution.

In May, the United States and the World Bank called on Ghana to respect LGBT+ rights and said they were closely watching the situation in the country.

What are the next steps?

After the first reading, the bill will be referred to a committee for review before it is presented before parliament for a second reading and debate where it may be subject to amendments.

It then goes for a third reading before it can be passed into law. It will also require assent from President Nana Akufo-Addo.


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