Ghana

Anti-gay bill proposing 10-year prison sentences sparks outrage

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

Draft anti-gay legislation submitted to Ghana’s parliament could propose up to 10 years in jail for LGBTQ+ people as well as groups and individuals who advocate for their rights, express sympathy, or offer social or medical support, in one of the most draconian and sweeping anti-gay laws proposed around the world.

Support for intersex people would also be criminalized and the government could direct intersex people to receive “gender realignment” surgery, said the draft legislation.

A leaked copy of the promotion of proper human sexual rights and Ghanaian family values bill, widely circulated online and confirmed as authentic by diplomats with access to the draft bill, has sparked outrage and growing fear among human rights activists.

The bill would be the first major step in criminalizing the sexual minorities and their supporters since independence from colonial rule.

The prospect of harsh new laws has been hailed by numerous MPs and supported by figures in President Nana Akufo-Addo’s government.

It follows a wave of repression against LGBTQ+ people in the west African country since January this year. In February, a community space offering support for sexual minorities was forced to close amid a backlash from politicians, civil and religious groups and the media, and also led to a rise in arrests and abuse against people perceived to be gay or queer.

On Friday, Sam Nartey George, an MP who has described gay rights as a “perversion” and led a group of lawmakers who drafted the bill, dismissed online condemnation of the bill as “uninformed”.

“Homosexuality is not a human right. It is a sexual preference,” he said in a post on Twitter. “We shall pass this bill through.”

Foreign diplomats said that they have expressed significant concern over the bill to Ghana’s government. Ghanaian officials have privately sought to allay fears that that the bill will pass.

Parliament has not yet appointed a committee to review the draft legislation and the bill will likely be subject to various amendments before it is passed.

Nana Ama Agyemang Asante, a journalist, and activist in Accra said she was “stunned by the contents, the crudeness of the language, and the cruelty behind the intent” of the bill. “I have spent all my time as a journalist advocating for gay rights so I can’t believe that we have arrived at this point where they want to criminalize everything and everyone including the existence of allies, intersex, and asexual folks.”

Among other aspects of the bill that has sparked condemnation, groups or individuals found to be funding groups deemed as advocating for LGBTQ+ rights or offering support could be prosecuted. Marriage would be clearly defined in Ghanaian law as being between a male and female.

Media companies, online platforms and accounts which publish information that could be deemed to encourage children to explore any gender or sex outside of the binary categories of male and female could face 10 years in prison.

Since January, groups across public life, from politicians to journalists, civil and religious leaders, have led fierce condemnation of LGBTQ+ rights and support networks in Ghana.

Ghana’s government promised new laws to prohibit pro-gay advocacy, amid hysteria over bolder efforts to establish support for sexual minorities. A group of eight lawmakers submitted the draft legislation to parliament on 29 June.

“Unnatural carnal knowledge” – often interpreted as non-heterosexual sex – is unlawful in Ghana. Prosecutions are rare, yet many gay and queer people have reported experiencing abuse by citizens and law enforcement agencies.

Amid the growing clamor for a clampdown on those perceived to be promoting LGBTQ+ rights, 21 people were arrested in the city of Ho in March, at a training event for paralegals and other professionals working on supporting vulnerable groups. They were released on bail last month yet many of the defendants are living in safehouses for fear of safety, with some disowned by family members and have lost their jobs.

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