British producer arrested in Uganda over gay rights play
The British producer of a play that looks at the difficulties of being gay in Uganda has been arrested after staging the production despite a ban by regulators.
The play, entitled ‘The River and The Mountain’, was not granted clearance by the Ugandan ethics minister, because it ‘justified the promotion of homosexuality’. Producer David Cecil had been sent a letter by The Ugandan Media Council, which stated they were considering whether to grant the play clearance to be performed or not.
However, in August this year, whilst waiting for a decision, Cecil performed the play at two small venues in the capital, Kampala, after the plays original run at The National Theatre was cancelled. The producer had been told that whilst a decision was in the process of being made, the play was not to be staged in any theatre or public place in Uganda.
‘I was called in by the police and spoken to by several officers from the media offences department of the CID [Criminal Investigation Directorate],’ said Cecil. ‘They said that by staging the play I have disobeyed the Media Council, which is a public authority. I’ve been charged with that offence and they are now considering whether to press on with the case. But I had only taken their letter to be advisory, not the law.’
Cecil says he and British playwright Beau Hopkins, in unison with their Ugandan director Angella Emurwon and the play’s actors, decided to go ahead with the staging, because the Media Council’s initial warning letter ‘in no way’ made reference to any potential legal consequences.
Cecil’s lawyer John Francis Onyango released a statement saying, ‘The offence of disobedience of lawful orders carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison…There is no option for a fine, so if convicted it would be a jail term. However I am confident we can win the case. They must conclusively establish that this was disobedience, rather than the chance that the letter was misunderstood.’
Cecil says that if the initial warning had been clearer, he may have decided not to stage the play. ‘I really didn’t mean to insult anyone, and I am not a rights advocate. I only wanted to open up dialogue.’
The producer says he feels as though he’s ‘fallen into the trap’ of local powers that will gladly seize any chance to present homosexuality as an abomination, and say that it’s being ‘imported’ by Westerners like himself. ‘This is ironic because it is exactly the theme of our play,’ Cecil says. ‘This, again ironically, shows that our play contains some kind of truth.’
Ugandan ethics minister Simon Lokodo said the play was not granted clearance because it was ‘justifying the promotion of homosexuality in Uganda, and Uganda does not accommodate homosexual causes. We will put pressure on anyone saying that this abomination [homosexuality] is acceptable.’
Currently homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda and frequently draw condemnation from church pastors and politicians.