Uganda deports British producer over gay-themed play

Uganda has deported a British theatre producer who staged a gay-themed play, the British High Commission said Tuesday.
David Cecil, centre, is shown in a Ugandan jail cell in September 2012. The British producer of the play The River and the Mountain has been deported from Uganda. (Stephen Wandera/Associated Press)

Uganda has deported a British theatre producer who staged a gay-themed play, the British High Commission said Tuesday.

David Cecil was arrested last summer for failing to gain authorization to stage the play The River and the Mountain as well as for disobeying an order from a public official. A court subsequently cleared him of charges, but he was arrested again last week.

Ugandan Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo said Tuesday that Cecil was an "undesirable immigrant" who was promoting gay rights and confirmed the theatre producer had been forced out of the country on Monday by ministerial order.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and the country is considering new laws that would increase penalties against Uganda’s gay community.

Cecil’s play The River and the Mountain tells the story of a gay businessman who is murdered by his own employees. In an interview with CBC’s As It Happens following his initial arrest in September, Cecil described the play as a "comedy-drama" and said he wants to highlight the ways sexuality and politics intersect in Uganda.

"There is no scene or moment in the play that says 'It’s OK to be gay' or 'You must accept gays,'" he said.

He added that it was very unusual for Uganda to require official approval of a play in advance.

"We were completely unaware that the play would require some form of official clearance to be performed publicly and we were only made aware of that days before it would be performed. We put a lot of time and energy into preparing the play," Cecil said, explaining why he went ahead with the production.

International condemnation

International rights activists held up Cecil’s case as an example of how misguided Uganda in its approach to homosexuality. The country had considered legislation that would introduce the death penalty for homosexuals, but the move drew so much international condemnation that officials rewrote the law, with the sentence life imprisonment instead.

The government also has proposed introducing a charge of "promotion of homosexuality," which could carry a term of up to seven years in prison for those convicted of "funding and sponsoring ... homosexuality and related activities."

Cecil has said he did not think of himself as an activist and that he believes Uganda will change its attitudes only when pressure came from its own citizens. He was able to briefly call his Ugandan girlfriend from the airport before being rushed onto the plane, warning her to call a lawyer.

British High Commission spokesperson Chris Ward said the U.K. was concerned about Cecil's deportation without a chance to challenge the order in court. Ward told Reuters he intends to meet with Ugandan officials.

"It's obviously key ... [for] the U.K. government to know that due process is being followed," he said. 

With files from the Associated Press