US evangelical Christians accused of fomenting religious division in Ghana

Written by Staff Writer, CNN

Abiona Anas, CNN London Written by Staff Writer, CNN

A US-based evangelical Christians group may have influenced Ghana’s crackdown on the LGBTQ community, local activists and lawyers allege.

The National Council for Christian Education, which describes itself as the biggest evangelical organization in the US, is named in a legal case alleging that it caused tensions in the West African country.

An award-winning Ghanaian filmmaker, Foday Azana Yedu, was recently charged with producing the 2015 documentary “Planet Rainbow,” in which the media exposed abuse, at times fatal, by several ultra-conservative activists including a pastor who performed gay exorcisms and claimed to have made sacrifices to demon spirits to rid his neighbors of homosexuality.

Azana has claimed he is innocent and the case was predicated on this documentary, which was produced after the anti-gay activities of an organization linked to the council.

However, his lawyers said it is possible the council may have “pressure him to talk” about the organization that allegedly intimidated him.

“The lawyer said that (the council) allegedly brought pressure on him and that’s why he didn’t meet the previous judge that refused to go back to the case as Mr. Yedu said; and that’s why he actually got a new one to enable him to enter his defense statements,” Osasu Obayiuwana, the director of an LGBTQ rights group in Ghana, tells CNN.

The legal dispute is over the accuracy of the documentary, which was produced after the church pastor who performed gay exorcisms was arrested by police in March 2015.

‘Avoiding public discussion’

CNN interviewed Azana in May 2016 and found that “there were many people who wanted to document these battles (of the church) because they were too afraid and too embarrassed to talk about them.”

The National Council for Christian Education did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Azana’s lawyers allege the council is a “front organization” for the church. “They’re creating a contradiction between the front organization that they are… and those front organizations that are supposed to help their members in the community,” law professor Gyeinu Omamo, who is helping represent Azana, tells CNN.

Concerns that the council may have influenced the attorney’s decision to shift the focus of the trial were “understandable,” adds Obayiuwana. “It just shows how large the Christian group is and its impact on the case,” he says.

A previous trial of Azana in 2015 was eventually dropped by the judge because it was being driven by “tired ideas and prejudgments rather than evidence,” according to Azana’s lawyer.

Meanwhile, Western embassies in Ghana continue to issue warnings to tourists about the dangers of discriminatory laws, according to an annual report compiled by the Institute for Security Studies in April.

A number of countries around the world have enacted laws that criminalize homosexuality or gender identity or expression. Two of the governments convicted by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014 of violations under the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights were Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

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