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State Department urges Ghana to protect LGBTQ rights after activists arrest

Workshop attendees taken into custody after ‘unlawful assembly’

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The State Department on Monday expressed concern over the arrest of 21 LGBTQ activists in Ghana.

Ghananian police on May 20 arrested the activists in the city of Ho. A State Department spokesperson in their statement said the U.S. “promotes efforts worldwide to protect LGBTQI+ populations from violence and abuse, criminalization, discrimination, and stigma, and to empower local movements and persons seeking to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

The spokesperson proceeded to say that the situation in Ghana is on the State Department’s radar and called upon the country’s national leaders and citizens to support and preserve the human rights of LGBTQ Ghanaians. 

“We are monitoring the situation closely,” said the spokesperson. “We urge national leaders in Ghana to uphold constitutional human rights protections and to adhere to international human rights obligations and commitments for all individuals. This includes members of the LGBTQI+ community.” 

“We call on all Ghanaians to respect the provisions under Ghana’s constitution that guarantee freedom of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly.”

What caused the arrests?

A training for activists and paralegals on how to advocate for LGBTQ Ghanaians and record any infringements of their human rights took place on May 20. Someone tipped off the authorities, and they arrested event detainees.

Alex Kofi Donkor, founder and director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, told The Guardian that “the [event] was to train them on paralegal services for vulnerable groups – how we can document issues of abuse, and how best these trained paralegals can provide support.” 

Authorities deemed the event an “unlawful assembly,” and they immediately arrested 16 men and five women. All were denied bail and are due to appear before a judge on June 4. 

Rightify Ghana, a Ghanaian human rights group, in a series of tweets said journalists teamed up with the Ghanaian police when they descended on the event, and took people’s belongings.

“Journalists were the first to storm the place, started taking photos, took their notepads, flip charts, puller banner, books, then locked them while calling the police. The worried victims started crying for help, but today a judge has remanded the 21 queer persons #ReleaseThe21,” said Rightify Ghana. 

Rightify Ghana further expressed their disappointment with the Ghanaian media’s actions as it is an entity that has fervently advocated for freedom of press in the West African nation. 

“Ghanaian media, which has for decades been advocating for press freedom in Ghana, are enablers in the promotion of hate and discrimination against minority groups in the country, especially sexual minorities. No wonder Ghana is here,” said Rightify Ghana. 

The activists’ arrest last week in Ho is the latest of a series of anti-LGBTQ events that have taken place in Ghana.

Ghanaian police officers earlier this year raided and shut down an LGBTQ center.

This action prompted Black celebrities in the West to urge President Nana Akufo-Addo in an open letter to work with LGBTQ community leaders. Some of the celebrities included actor Idris Elba, model Naomi Campbell, and British Vogue Editor-in-Chief Edward Enninful.

In reaction to the recent arrests, prominent human rights groups have expressed their disapproval of LGBTQ human rights abuses in Ghana.

“The arrest of LGBTIQ people holding a lawful, private gathering about protecting and supporting LGBTIQ people in Ghana is shocking, and unacceptable,” said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern. “The basic human rights to freedom of assembly and association, enshrined in the country’s constitution, should not be limited by anti-LGBTIQ opinions of bystanders or the police.”

“Those detained should be released immediately, and an investigation into how such a blatant violation of rights could take place has to be held,” added Stern.

“I am deeply saddened that the Ghana police can act on false alarm to arrest and detain innocent citizens,” added Davis Mac-Iyalla, executive director of Interfaith Diversity Network of West Africa. “The human rights defenders arrested and jailed did nothing unlawful, they were exercising their freedom of assembly and association.”

Mac-Iyalla in his statement said “this illegal arrest is a reflection of the high level of discrimination against minorities in Ghana.” 

“I call on the government to condemn the arrest and order the release of the human rights defenders,” added Mac-Iyalla. “I also call on religious leaders and all civil society locally and internationally to add their voices to this call.”

Michael K. Lavers contributed to this story.

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Europe

Poland LGBTQ ‘Free Zones’ tossed, UK ranking drops, Pussy Riot singer escapes

Maria Alyokhina fled Russia disguised as a food delivery driver

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Sopot (Poland) Vice Mayor Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim, right, and LGBTQ marchers (Photo courtesy of Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

LGBTQ news from Europe this past week saw a major development in Poland after a court annulled actions taken previously to declare ‘LGBT Free Zones’ by provincial governments.

Large parts of Poland were labelled “LGBT-free zones,” where regional governments declared they were against LGBTQ ideology. Last fall the executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude.) 

The survey found 56 percent of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65 percent, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58 percent of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

Lublin Regional Assembly passed a resolution in April 2019 declaring that LGBTQ rights aim to “annihilate” the “values shaped by the Catholic Church” PinkNewsUK reported.

In the same month, Ryki County, a district in Lublin, passed a resolution voting to protect “children, young people, families and Polish schools” from an apparent wave of “homoterror” being unleashed by “left-liberal groups.”

PinkNewsUK also reported that the Provincial Administrative Court in Lublin found the resolutions were “adopted without legal basis and in gross violation of the law” after a legal challenge by the Polish Ombudsman.

They become the eighth and ninth “LGBT-free zones” voided by the courts following interventions by the Polish Ombudsman. Municipal councils in Istebna, Klwów, Serniki, Osiek, Lipinki, Niebylec and the Tarnowski County Council all scrapped such measures in 2019.

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungary.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

The UK has dropped to 14th in the ILGA-Europe’s rankings for LGBTQ rights, scoring 53 out of a possible 100

ILGA-Europe, which produces a yearly “rainbow map” of 49 countries across Europe, revealed this past week that the United Kingdom had the most significant drop in ranking for LGBTQ equality rights this past year falling from 10th to 14th place.

Leading contributors to the loss in ranking and standing on the ILGA annual listing was due in part to the ongoing battles over transgender rights with a failure by the Tory-led government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set gender recognition policies especially in regard to a total ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

ILGA-Europe’s advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel, described the UK’s plunging status to The Guardian newspaper as “a sad reminder that when governments don’t stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, a powerful opposition can use that space to spread hate and division”.

The chief executive of Stonewall UK, Nancy Kelley, warned that “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

The ILGA highlighted the UK government’s failure to extend a ban on conversion practices to transgender people, as well as abandonment of promised reforms on gender recognition and its equality action plan. It added that the UK also lost points because the government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was “not … effectively protecting on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” the Guardian reported.

Kelley called on the prime minister to “step back into the game” as a leader in protecting and promoting LGBTQ rights.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, we call for his active leadership to rebuild our human rights institutions and to deliver a strategic policy programme that enables all LGBTQ+ people in the UK to live their lives in freedom and safety.”

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot escaped from Russia disguised as a food delivery worker

In what could be best described as a story worthy of a Cold-War era spy novel, the leader of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot fled Russia disguised as a food-delivery worker. Maria V. Alyokhina in an interview with the New York Times that she was able to get to her girlfriend’s home in Vilnius, Lithuania, after evading Russian Federal Security Services agents.

The queer singer-songwriter musician and human rights activist who was on house arrest at the time of her escape was set to be transferred to a penal colony in the Russian Far East after being arrested six times in the past year protesting the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more recently his order for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the account in the New York Times, Alyokhina left her apartment in the food-delivery worker disguise, and an unnamed friend drove her to the Belarusian border. The problem then became exiting from Belarus to Lithuania as she was turned away at the border twice by Lithuanian border agents.

The Times reported that Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson eventually helped Alyokhina acquire the necessary travel documents from an unnamed country that in turn assisted her entering into Lithuania, where many Pussy Riot members had already escaped to, including Alyokhina’s girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

The band has now kicked off their European tour in Berlin.

Pussy Riot concert with activist after escape from Russia

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Russia

Russia extends Brittney Griner detention for another month

WNBA star taken into custody at Moscow airport in February

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Brittney Griner (Photo by Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Russian court on Friday extended WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention for another month.

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

Griner is among the WNBA players who play in Russia during the league’s off-season.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. The National Black Justice Coalition is among the groups that have also criticized Russia over Griner’s detention.

Griner on Friday appeared in court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the Associated Press that her trial could begin soon.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Europe

Greek lawmakers ban conversion therapy for minors

Bill passed in country’s Parliament on Wednesday

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Greek parliament building (Photo by katatonia82 via Bigstockphoto)

Greek lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that will ban so-called conversion therapy for minors.

Media reports note mental health providers will face fines and prison if they subject a minor to conversion therapy without their consent. The bill will also ban the advertisement of conversion therapy in the country.

“There were some false treatments that stated that when a minor has chosen a different sexual orientation, his parents could supposedly proceed with ‘treatments’ for this child to ‘return to normality'”, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said before the vote, according to Reuters. “Obviously these treatments not only are not a therapy but they are not supported scientifically.”

Laws that ban conversion therapy have taken effect in New Zealand, France and Canada in recent months.

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