British man faces jail for ‘gay’ play in Uganda

Two Britons living in Uganda under attack by police for putting on The River and the Mountain, a ‘banned’ play with a gay plotline

British man faces jail for ‘gay’ play in Uganda
12 September 2012

A British ex-pat living in Uganda could be jailed for two years for producing a play containing a gay storyline.

And another British ex-pat has had to hand over his UK passport to the Ugandan authorities and been released on police bail after he was arrested for staging the play.

The play, The River and the Mountain, features a storyline about a gay businessman living in a homophobic country among its themes.

It is advertised as: ‘A Ugandan comedy drama that tackles the intersection of religion, politics and sexuality.’

Now Radio Netherlands Worldwide is reporting the producer and playwright, British Beau Hopkins, aged 34 and currently living in Uganda, may be arrested and could face a two-year prison sentence.

But the authorities have not yet set a time-frame for when a decision on this will be made.

As Gay Star News reported last week, David Cecil was arrested on 6 September after putting on the play which ran from 17 to 23 August in a small bar and cultural center managed by him and his girlfriend in Kampala, the Ugandan capital.

It has now emerged that Cecil is also British.

Cecil was accused of ignoring an advance warning issued on 16 August, the day before the play premiered, from the Uganda Media Council that it should not be staged until official clearance was received.

The Media Council had later banned the play, on 29 August, after the showings had ended, stating that sections of it ‘implicitly promote homosexual acts’, which ‘are contrary to the laws, cultural norms and values of Uganda’.

Cecil states that he together with Ugandan director Angella Emurwon, the Ugandan actors and Hopkins, decided to go ahead with staging the play because the Media Council’s initial warning letter ‘in no way’ made reference to any potential legal consequences.

‘Even my Ugandan lawyer read the letter and said: “It does not clearly constitute a legal order”,’ he said.

However Cecil was contacted by the police and subsequently charged for disobeying an order from a public authority – the Media Council.

The play had originally been scheduled for the National Theatre of Uganda but performances were cancelled after government officials objected to the gay theme and regulators intervened.

Some shows went ahead at two smaller venues.

According to Cecil he is not an activist and might have cancelled the production if the initial warning had not been so vague.

‘I really didn’t mean to insult anyone, and I am not a rights advocate. I only wanted to open up dialogue,’ he said.

Hopkins states that Cecil has become ‘enmeshed in a situation similar to what the play portrayed’.

This, he says is ‘anger and hatred [about homosexuality that] has been whipped up by politicians and religious leaders for their own purposes.’

Cecil feels he has ‘fallen into the trap’ of the 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,’ he said. ‘This, again ironically, shows that our play contains some kind of truth.’

The authorities have made Cecil, who has been living in Uganda for three years, hand over his British passport and a police bond has been issued for him.

An earlier report by GSN (7 September) stated Cecil is Ugandan. This was based on information from usually trustworthy sources on the ground in Uganda. It has now been corrected. We are sorry for the inaccuracy.

Uganda is well known for its society’s homophobia and has, in the last few years, discussed a ‘Kill the gays bill’ to extend the death penalty for homosexuality. This bill has currently been shelved.

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