Ghana's top court postpones hearing on challenge to anti-LGBTQ bill

Members of Ghana's LGBT community and activists on tenterhooks as they wait to see if the west African country's president will sign into law

ACCRA (Reuters) - Ghana's Supreme Court said on Wednesday that lawyers battling over the legality of one of Africa's most restrictive anti-LGBTQ bill must amend their motions due to insulting language in their submissions and then postponed the case.

Parliament unanimously passed the bill that would intensify a crackdown on LGBTQ rights in the West African nation in February, but President Nana Akufo-Addo has delayed signing it with his office citing pending challenges at the Supreme Court.

The ruling by Chief Justice Gertrude Torkornoo to adjourn Wednesday's first hearing on the challenges without setting a new date further delays any resolution on a bill that, if signed into law, could jeopardise donor funding for a country facing an economic crisis.

Gay sex is already punishable with up to three years in jail in Ghana. If the bill takes effect, it will lengthen the sentence and intensify a crackdown on the rights of LGBTQ people and those accused of promoting lesbian, gay or other minority sexual or gender identities.

Rights groups such as Human Rights Watch have warned that the new law could lead to further violence against LGBTQ people who already suffer from different forms of discrimination, urging Akufo-Addo to veto it.

Supporters of the bill have been pushing for its promulgation despite a finance ministry warning that it could jeopardise $3.8 billion in World Bank financing and derail a $3-billion International Monetary Fund loan package.

Oxford Economics said in a note on Wednesday that while the legislation might impact the country's ability to tap into concessional sources such as the World Bank, it would not affect Ghana's ability to receive disbursements under its current IMF programme.

Amanda Odoi and Richard Sky, both lawyers, filed separate challenges to the bill, seeking to declare it illegal and prevent the president from signing it.

Torkornoo said the plaintiffs and lawyers for the speaker of parliament needed to amend their motions and remove "inappropriate, intemperate language" in order to be courteous.

Amendments must be filed by May 17, she said before adjourning the sitting.

Attorney General and Justice Minister Godfred Yeboa Dame told reporters after the hearing he was satisfied with the process.

(Reporting by Maxwell Akalaare Adombila; Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Anait Miridzhanian and Alison Williams)