Uganda: Theatre producer face a two-year prison sentence

27 September 2012

British theatre producer David Cecil, 34, was granted bail after a couple of days in a prison near the capital Kampala, but his passport was confiscated, and he is due back in court on 18 October. He could face a two-year prison sentence if convicted.

David Cecil is charged with “disobedience to lawful orders” from the Uganda Media Council because he staged the play ‘The River and the Mountain’ while it was still under review by a censorship committee. The play is written by Uganda-based British playwright Beau Hopkins and touches on the situation of gays in Uganda.

David Cecil, owner of Tilapila Bar in Kampala, maintained in court that he went on with staging the play because the Media Council’s initial warning letter made no reference to any legal consequences. He was ordered to appear back in court on 18 October 2012.

Also in line for punishment is its playwright Beau Hopkins, who is also a British ex-pat living in Uganda, and who could also be jailed for two years for producing the play.

A petition expressing outrage over the detention in Uganda of David Cecil for staging the play was signed within 24 hours by more than 1,000 leading figures in the entertainment world. The letter was circulated by Index on Censorship and David Lan, artistic director of the Young Vic, and delivered to the Ugandan high commission in London.

Mike Harris, head of advocacy at Index on Censorship, said: “The prosecution of David Cecil simply for staging a play is unacceptable, but unfortunately this is just one of a number of troubling cases in Uganda. The recent arrest of writers critical of the president such as Vincent Nzaramba, the attack on independent newspaper Eddoboozi and the use of criminal defamation against critical voices all point to a decline in free speech.”

Anti-gay sentiments on the rise
The UK newspaper The Guardian reported that the play “has provoked controversy not only for its sympathetic portrayal of gay people, but also because it suggests that much of the anger and hatred has been whipped up by politicians and religious leaders for their own purposes.”

The Ugandan Parliament is currently considering a law that could make homosexual relations punishable by life imprisonment. Talking about homosexuality in public is punishable by a seven-year prison term.
In 2009, an Anti-homosexuality law bill proposed the death penalty or life imprisonment for homosexual acts. The bill was met with strong international condemnation, with several Western countries threatening to suspend aid to Uganda. Anti-gay sentiments have been on the rise in the country since the tabling of the bill.

In January 2011, anti-gay activist David Kato, 43, was murdered at his home in Kampala. Prior to his death, a local publication had revealed his homosexuality and called for his murder.

Some 41 nations of the 54-member Commonwealth, a British institution, are said to have laws banning homosexuality, and many of these laws are a legacy of British Empire laws.

On 22 June 2012, however, in a landmark statement, Uganda’s government said gay people are now free to meet in response to growing international criticism of the anti-gay efforts in the African country. The government stated that it does not discriminate against people ‘of a different sexual orientation’.

The Guardian – 20 September 2012:
Stars sign petition over British theatre producer’s Uganda arrest
David Cecil is charged with staging play about homosexuality while it was still under review by censors. By Maev Kennedy

Ground Report – 19 September 2012:
Kuddus says “Britian should take a stand” on Uganda’s ‘gay hate’
By S M Kovalinsky

Afrik-News – 18 September 2012:
Uganda: Homosexuality banned even in the theatre
By Assanatou Baldé

Wikipedia – the open encyclopedia:

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