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Ghana's president softens country's stance on draconian anti-LGBTQ bill as Kamala Harris visits

US Vice President Kamala Harris is welcomed by Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, Ghana, Monday March 27, 2023.

CNN  — 

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has said that “substantial elements” of a draconian anti-LGBTQ bill being considered by its parliament “have been modified” after an intervention by his government.

Akufo-Addo made the disclosure Monday at a joint press conference with US Vice-President Kamala Harris, who’s on a tour of the West African country.

He pointed out that the proposed legislation, framed in the guise of “family values” – which seeks to introduce some of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws on the African continent – was not legislation introduced by his government but a private members’ bill. The bill was first introduced in parliament in August 2021.

“The bill is going through the parliament. The attorney general has found it necessary to speak to the committee (the constitutional and legal committee of parliament) about it regarding the constitutionality … of several of its provisions. The parliament is dealing with it. At the end of the process, I will come in,” the Ghanaian leader said.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo address the press during her week-long trip to Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia, in Accra, Ghana March 27, 2023.

After parliamentary deliberations, a final bill will be sent to the president for assent.

“My understanding … is that substantial elements of the bill have already been modified as a result of the intervention of the attorney general,” Akufo-Addo said.

In suggesting that the bill may end up being watered down in the amendment process, Akufo-Addo added that he was convinced the parliament will consider the sensitivity of the bill to human rights issues as well as the feelings of the Ghanaian population “and come out with a responsible response.”

However, one of the parliamentarians who introduced the bill, Samuel Nartey George, insists that the proposed law remains “rigid and tough.”

“The bill has not been substantially changed. The bill remains as tough and as rigid as it was,” George told local media in a televised interview.

He added: “When the bill is laid before the House (of parliament), you will realize that the focus of the bill which has to do with voiding (gay) marriages, preventing them from adopting or fostering children, the clampdown on platforms and media houses that are going to do promotion and advocacy or push those materials still remain enforced.”

George also implied that restrictions against “expressions, be it lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender are all still there. “So when he (Akufo-Addo) says the bill has been watered down, he doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

The proposed aw would see LGBTQ Ghanaians face jail time, or be forced into so-called “conversion therapy” – a widely discredited practice debunked by much of the international medical and psychiatric communities.

Under the bill, advocates of the LGBTQ community would face up to a decade in prison; public displays of same-sex affection or cross-dressing could lead to a fine or jail time, and certain types of medical support would be made illegal.

The new law would also make the distribution of material deemed pro-LGBTQ by news organizations or websites illegal. It calls on Ghanaians to report those they suspect of being from the LGBTQ community.

Harris, the US vice-president, said at the press conference she felt very strongly about supporting the freedom and equality of the LGBTQ community.

“This is an issue that we consider to be a human rights issue, and that will not change,” she said.

Ghana’s information minister, Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, also told CNN on Tuesday that the outcome of the parliamentary debate on the bill may differ from its original provisions.

“The bill is now in an enactment process. What will come out in enactment when 275 members get on the floor and start dealing with it clause by clause and voting clause by clause, may end up being different from what was proposed. You propose a bill and parliament … can tweak it and make it harsher or less harsh … it is in the hands of parliament now,” Nkrumah said.

The minister also insisted however that the Ghanaian government was not under pressure to relax existing legislation on homosexuality.

“We are not pressured in any way to focus on things that are not essentially within our main priorities. Our priority number one is getting the Ghanaian economy on track and that’s what we’re focused on.”

“This conversation is not part of our mainstream conversation here in Ghana,” he added.

Old sodomy laws dating back to 1960 remain on the statute books in Ghana but they are rarely enforced.

Activist Danny Bediako, who runs the NGO Rightify Ghana, told CNN that living in Ghana would become tougher for the LGBTQ community if the bill passes in parliament.

“It’s going to make it difficult for the (LGBTQ) community to exist. They are just trying to erase the community through this bill, so it will definitely lead to an increase in attacks,” said Bediako, who added that his organization had documented 27 cases of violent attacks targeted toward the LGBTQ community in the country this year.

“There have been different types of cases, but the most dominant one is the activities of violent groups and they are widespread. So if this bill is passed, these activities are going to continue and it’s only going to also get worse.”

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