In a shocking revelation, the Pentecostal Zion Church situated on the Sokode-Akrofu Road near Ho has been exposed for subjecting mentally deranged individuals to appalling living conditions and inhumane treatment. Scores of male and female patients are reported to be suffering a slow and agonizing fate within the confines of this church.
According to reports, these individuals are kept in chains, bound to huge logs under rudimentary sheds behind the church’s pavilion, where worshippers gather. The chains around their ankles and wrists severely limit their mobility, making it impossible for them to move about freely. As a result, some of the inmates sit on the bare floor without any underwear and defecate where they sit. The roughly built hut (shed) exposes them to harsh weather conditions, with many sleeping on wet floors when it rains.
The situation worsens as the plantation is waterlogged, with floodwaters regularly submerging the area, often reaching the waist of these restrained individuals. Shockingly, some have remained shackled and in solitary confinement for nearly a year, while others endure prolonged fasting periods lasting between 21 and 40 days, purportedly part of their spiritual treatment. The fast is also used periodically to weaken aggressive ‘patients’. At the end of the fast, they are given tea from lemongrass with little sugar without bread.
Adding to the maltreatment, the church deprives the inmates of any medication throughout their extended stay at the camp, which usually spans between 6 and 12 months. Instead of appropriate medical care, they are offered prayers as the sole treatment, despite many showing clear signs of severe sickness and with their lives hanging precariously by a thread. The combination of malnutrition, restricted movement, and unhygienic surroundings creates a hellish environment for these unfortunate souls.
Ghana’s Mental Health Act of 2012 expressly prohibits the torture, cruelty, forced labor, and inhumane treatment of people with psychosocial disabilities, including the use of shackling. Despite this, Apostle Michael Atiamu, the leader of the church, defends the practice, claiming it is employed to pacify the patients.
Professor Akwasi Osei, a Mental Health Expert, said the practice was against United Nations Human Rights provisions and Ghana’s Constitution and must be stopped.
“The patients are not dogs to be chained. They must be immediately released and sent to Psychiatric hospital,” he added. “Even if they have spiritual issues, spirits use the body so, the body needs to be taken care of medically,” a mental health practitioner, who sought anonymity, said.
Mr Francis Xavier-Sosu, a human rights activist and Member of Parliament for Madina, said the practice violated international human rights conventions and Article 12(1) of the 1992 Constitution and the dignity of the mentally challenged.
He said such people ought to be protected by the Mental Health Authority (MHA) and is hopeful Parliament would pass a private member’s bill aimed at putting mental health issues under the National Health Insurance Scheme.
“I have introduced this bill because many people go to the prayer camps because they can’t afford hospital bills. I hope Parliament will expedite action on it to save our brothers and sisters.”
When contacted, the Mental Health Authority (MHA), responsible for enhancing access to quality mental health services, declined to comment on the situation and directed the matter to the police. However, given the gravity of the situation, concerned citizens and advocates are hopeful that the authorities will take swift and decisive action to bring an end to the heinous treatment endured by these vulnerable individuals.