Producer of Gay-Themed Play in Uganda Won’t Serve Time
A Ugandan court has thrown out a case against a British producer who created a controversial play about gay life in the East African country.
As reported by British national newspaper the Guardian, David Cecil was charged with "disobeying lawful orders" and faced up to two years in jail for staging the play. "The River and the Mountain" tells the story of a young businessman dealing with homophobia in Uganda.
Cecil told the Guardian that his cased was dismissed on Wednesday because the prosecution could not disclose evidence or commit to a trail date. The producer's passport was returned to him and he was let go. The magistrate, however, noted that the case could be re-opened at any time.
"I am very relieved," Cecil said. "This was an unexpectedly swift end to the proceedings, though ultimately I was confident that the case would be dismissed. I am very happy indeed to see the justice system working so well and smoothly in this case and am grateful to the magistrate for her treatment of my case.
Undoubtedly, international pressure helped sway the court. Several prominent British playwrights and directors petitioned the court, including Stephen Fry, Mike Leigh and Simon Callow.
In September, the Associated Press reported that Cecil was held in jail after Uganda's Media Council urged the playwright not to stage the play. He had told AP that "The River and the Mountain" was performed eight times at relatively unknown theaters in Kampala, Uganda's capital, in August.
Initially, gay rights activists lauded the play and said it was "revolutionary" in the way it portrayed the LGBT community in the homophobic country. It never made it to the country's national theater, however, as producers rejected Cecil's script. He also said that they were prohibited from hanging up posters at the national theater after officials said the play had not been authorized by the government.
AP also noted that this was the first time a play centered around homosexuality was performed in Uganda. Cecil expressed the hope that it would help "normalize the gay character" in the country.
LGBT rights supporters around the world have criticized Uganda's officials and the country's treatment of gay men and women. Rebecca Kadaga, the country's speaker of parliament, has lobbied for an anti-gay bill, which originally called for the death penalty for some gay acts. Although the controversial measure is still before Uganda's parliament, Kadaga promised to pass it as a "Christmas gift" and said the country's citizens "are demanding it." She also explained that the LGBT community poses a "serious threat" to Ugandan children.
In 2009, a lawmaker with the ruling party proposed the bill and wanted gay men and women to be sentenced to death for what he called "aggravated homosexuality." The same lawmaker blamed Western gay men for "luring" poor children with empty promises and money. The bill has drawn widespread criticism from world leaders, including President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.
Gay activists point to numerous incidents of official and street harassment, with police standing by or joining in. Gay men and lesbians have virtually no legal rights or protections in Uganda.