#ReleaseThe21 is a solidarity movement that aims to amplify the voices of 21 Ghanaian LGBTQI+ activists who are reportedly still behind bars after being unlawfully arrested 10 days ago during a conference hosted by human rights organisation, Rightify Ghana.
Ghana's queer community has taken to Twitter in a moving demonstration that calls for solidarity following Ghana's latest crackdown on innocent members of the LGBTQI+ community. 21 Ghanaian activists were arrested on May 21, during a conference where paralegals and activists were undergoing training in support of the LGBTQI+ community. The police allegedly barged in during the workshop, took photographs of the members and ceased their possessions before arresting them.
Same-sex relations are criminalised in Ghana, and there are allegations that the media teamed up with police authorities in an effort to stall Rightify Ghana's conference. According to GCN, the 21 activists were arrested on the grounds of an "unlawful assembly" and advocating homosexuality at a hotel in Ho region. Police then confiscated educational brochures on coming out, transgender acceptance and intersex knowledge. Though not clear how all 21 members identify, the statement released by the Ghana Police Service claims that 16 are women and 5 men "suspected to be either gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex". Many Ghanaians have called the arrests a breach of the law, especially considering that none of the members have been granted bail.
Alex Kofi Donkor, the director of LGBT+ Rights Ghana, which was raided by police at the start of 2021 was deeply by affected by the recent arrests and slammed the police for the homophobic actions guised as a lawful response. Donkor had this to say to Ghana's UniversNews:
"A clear indication of the police inciting hate and violence against other citizens. Which part of our constitution or criminal code criminalises LGBTQ persons such that you will ask that people should report incidents? This is a clear violation of our human rights as equal citizens of this country and it is being perpetrated by the police who have a mandate to protect us."
The police unashamedly stated that the arrests were in line with protecting the Ghanaian public, and in a scare tactic forewarned parents to report any LGBTQI+ events or meetings that support the community. Donkor, according to CNN, emphasised that LGBTQI+ persons are still targeted and singled out from their communities. The workshops then exist to equip queer individuals with knowledge on how to protect themselves and dealing with issues of abuse should they arise.
#ReleaseThe21 gained traction on Twitter soon after the arrests and caught the attention of international audiences. According to Them., Netflix's Pose actor Angelica Ross has used their platform to urge Black Americans to join in solidarity with movement. Wanlov The Kubolor, Ghana's multi-disciplinary artist and activist, is the latest artist to add his voice to the online demonstration. He and shared a video of himself this past Sunday after visiting the 21. The soft-spoken artists rallied Ghanians to advocate for the release of the 21 members and called for the humane treatment of LGBTQI+ people after detailing the deplorable jail conditions in which the 21 are detained. OutRight Action International which is a legal aid organisation, Alliance For Equality and Diversity (AfED) and more Ghanaian LGBTQI+ organisations have been outspoken about the injustice of the 21 and have publicly joined the movement.
Efforts by human rights lawyers to secure the release of the detainees were rejected by the Ho Circuit Court. While same-sex relations are illegal the official bill has yet to enter into Ghana's legislation. There is no prohibition against the gathering of LGBTQI+ people and furthermore, the freedom of association is upheld in Ghana's Constitution. The 21 are expected to appear in court on June 4, 2021.
Here are some Twitter responses:
Ghanaian musician, film director, LGBTQI+ ally and environmental activist, @wanlov paid a solidarity visit to polic… https://t.co/Er8208w95Z— Rightify Ghana (@Rightify Ghana)1622374083.0
It's already 11 Days and our dear colleagues are still in police custody for organising paralegal training to prote… https://t.co/dwT0SUBG3A— Nadia Owusu (@Nadia Owusu)1622383792.0
21 individuals have been arrested in Ghana on suspicions of being queer. What crime did they commit? The “crime” th… https://t.co/cxvqMWiTag— Queer Voices (@Queer Voices)1621839035.0
They are still in jail. #ReleaseThe21 https://t.co/sNZ2nzoSTD— Nnedi Okorafor, PhD (@Nnedi Okorafor, PhD)1622292022.0
Maybe we can try and appeal to African celebrities here in America who are willing to use their platforms to bring… https://t.co/7PCtwQ9BgM— Angelica Defund The Police Ross (@Angelica Defund The Police Ross)1621773822.0
Freedom of Assembly is a human right. #ReleaseThe21— Ismail Akwei (@Ismail Akwei)1622482668.0