KAMPALA, Uganda — The British manager of a bar and cultural center in the Ugandan capital city was arrested and remains in police custody after being denied bail for staging a play last week, whose main character is a gay businessman who is killed by his own employees.
David Cecil, producer of the play “The River and the Mountain,” was warned by the Uganda Media Council that staging the play would be consider “unauthorized.”
Radio Netherlands Worldwide reported the play ran from August 17-23 in the Kampala venue managed by Cecil and his girlfriend.
On Sept. 6, 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 August 16, the day before the play premiered. On August 29, 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 said he and British playwright Beau Hopkins, Ugandan director Angella Emurwon and the Ugandan actors, decided to go ahead with the staging because the Council’s initial warning letter “in no way” made reference to any potential legal consequences, according to Radio Netherlands Worldwide.
“Even my Ugandan lawyer read the letter and said ‘It does not clearly constitute a legal order,’” said Cecil.
Cecil was contacted by local police and subsequently charged for disobeying an order from a public authority.
In a hearing this week, Cecil was denied bail, and faces two years in prison if convicted.
Cecil, who has been living in Uganda for three years, has was ordered to surrender his (British) passport.
“The River and the Mountain” has won praise from Ugandan LGBT rights activists who said it was “revolutionary” in the way it provoked an examination of common thinking about gays. Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda and LGBT people have faced physical attacks and social rejection.
An anti-gay bill imposing life sentences on those convicted of homosexual acts was re-tabled in parliament earlier this year.
For his part Cecil says he’s not an activist and might have canceled the production if the initial warning had been clearer.
“I really didn’t mean to insult anyone, and I am not a rights advocate. I only wanted to open up dialogue,” he said.
Cecil added that he has become enmeshed in a situation similar to what the play portrayed — anti-homosexuality “anger and hatred [that] has been whipped up by politicians and religious leaders for their own purposes.”
In interviews granted to the press this week he says he has a 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 said. “This, again ironically, shows that our play contains some kind of truth.”