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A Ghanaian court has acquitted and freed 21 people who were arrested during a crackdown on homosexuality in May for attending an LGBTQ+ event.

Gay sex is a criminal offence in the West African country and members of the LGBTQ+ community often face discrimination.

A proposed new law that would impose tougher sentences and criminalise LGBTQ+ advocacy received its first reading in Ghana’s parliament this week, despite international criticism of the bill. Those arrested in May – 16 women and five men – were detained for unlawful assembly in Ho, in the southeastern Volta region, where they were taking part in a meeting for LGBTQ+ advocates.

Ch Supt Akolgo Yakubu Ayamga, a police prosecutor, said the Attorney General had advised there was insufficient evidence to continue with the prosecution. The rights group Rightify Ghana had said the 21 were at a meeting to empower LGBTQ+ people on various topics including training as paralegals to document and report rights violations.

Security forces raided and shut down the office of an LGBTQ+ rights group in the capital, Accra, in February after politicians and religious leaders called for its closure.

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