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Uganda: Producer of Nation's First Gay Play Could Be Jailed

in UGANDA, 11/09/2012

The British producer of the first-ever theatrical play about homosexuality in Uganda is facing legal consequences. David Cecil risks a two-year jail term in the East African country, Radio Netherlands Worldwide has learned.

Cecil helped produce 'The River and the Mountain', a play that was intended to further dialogue about homosexuality and homosexual acts, the latter of which are illegal in Uganda and frequently draw condemnation from church pastors and politicians.

'The River and the Mountain' ran from 17 to 23 August in a small cultural centre in Kampala managed by Cecil and his girlfriend.

On 6 September, Cecil was charged for ignoring an advance warning from the Uganda Media Council that the play was not to be staged until official "clearance" was obtained. The warning was issued on 16 August, the day before the play premiered. On 29 August, after the showings had ended, the Media Council ruled that the play was not to be staged because parts of the production "implicitly promote homosexual acts", which "are contrary to the laws, cultural norms and values of Uganda".

Cecil says he and British playwright Beau Hopkins, together with Ugandan director Angella Emurwon and the Ugandan 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 says: "Even my Ugandan lawyer read the letter and said: 'It does not clearly constitute a legal order'."

Charged for defying authority

But as it went, Cecil was contacted by the police and subsequently charged for disobeying an order from a public authority - the Media Council. After reviewing the charges, authorities will decide whether or not to bring the 34-year-old producer before court. It is unclear when the decision will take place.

In the meantime, Cecil, who has been living in Uganda for three years, has had to hand over his passport. A police bond has been issued for him.

"Wanted to open up dialogue"

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," he says.

He admits to feeling like he has "fallen into the trap" of local powers that gladly seize any chance to present homosexuality as an abomination that is 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."

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