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Ghana's Proposed Bill Would Make Same-Sex Affection Punishable By Years Of Prison

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In Ghana, same-sex relationships have been illegal for decades. Now a proposed bill threatens to tighten restrictions even further. It would outlaw displays of same-sex affection and even just showing support for LGBTQ rights, both punishable by up to a decade in prison. Danielle Paquette is West Africa bureau chief at The Washington Post, and she's been covering this legislation and the reaction.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

DANIELLE PAQUETTE: Thank you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, just tell us about the new offenses described in this bill.

PAQUETTE: It is broad, advocates tell me. People could be punished under this bill for something as simple as sending and encouraging tweets all the way up to organizing efforts to support sexual minorities or donating money to those causes.

SHAPIRO: Does it seem likely to pass?

PAQUETTE: Analysts in Ghana tell me they see it having a 50% chance, which is really terrifying to a lot of people in the LGBTQ community and advocates who are doing everything they can to express their outrage. There's also a lot of popular support in Ghana. A recent survey found that about 94% of Ghanaians said that they do not tolerate same-sex unions. Opposition to same-sex unions, to homosexuality - it started in the country when Britain was the colonial power. And Ghana had inherited a penal code against, quote, "carnal knowledge against the order of nature." So it has just become the norm in Ghana, this attitude, and rather fiercely.

SHAPIRO: I'm just wondering what the experience is like for activists trying to fight this bill in a country where homophobia is so deeply ingrained and homosexuality is illegal.

PAQUETTE: That's right. We've seen a large crackdown this year in Ghana, starting with the opening of a community center meant to support LGBTQ individuals. There was so much backlash from religious groups that the center was forced to close, in the seaside capital, Accra, after less than a month. After that, there was a gathering of paralegals in a different city in the north. They were all arrested on a charge of unlawful assembly.

SHAPIRO: And so what does the activism against this bill look like?

PAQUETTE: People are saying, hey, this is Ghana. We are known as a democracy. This is a very stable country compared to our neighbors in the region, where there's lots of conflict and crackdowns on free speech. Free speech is baked into our Constitution. And hey, Ghana really relies on tourism from countries like the United States and Canada, so a law like this threatens to hurt business.

SHAPIRO: Why do you think this crackdown is happening now? Given Ghana's long history of anti-gay policies, why this latest development at this point?

PAQUETTE: The LGBT community has been pushing for more support, more of a voice. And in response to that sort of cultural or social uprising has been an equal backlash from that religious right. The architect of this bill told me he was personally inspired by the opening of that LGBTQ community center. He was saying, well, if this group thinks that they have enough power and societal support to actually open a business, we need to do something against this, is what he said.

SHAPIRO: As you mentioned, Ghana gets a lot of tourists from liberal Western countries like the U.S. and Canada. Is there any concern among government officials that this could create a backlash and hurt the tourism economy?

PAQUETTE: A lot of government officials are nervous about speaking publicly on this. Siding against gay rights garners a lot of popular support in not just Ghana, but a lot of African nations. So you're seeing more voices from activists, voices from Ghanaians who live outside of the country, voices of members of the business community who are really worried about that profit hit.

SHAPIRO: Danielle Paquette is West Africa bureau chief at The Washington Post.

Thanks for talking with us.

PAQUETTE: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF PABLO NOUVELLE'S "TAMATERT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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