British play producer David Cecil was released from a Ugandan jail today three days after his arrest for staging a play about a gay man, but declined to speak about the case because his situation was “delicate.”
Cecil pleaded not guilty at his bail hearing today, but his passport was confiscated and he could still face up to two years in prison. He is scheduled to return to court Oct. 18.
“When I spoke to him today as he was getting released, physically he was okay, but I think psychologically he was a bit tortured,” Cecil’s friend and Ugandan civil rights attorney Godwin Buwa told ABC News.
Uganda is a conservative East African country where homosexual acts are a crime, and some lawmakers are pushing to extend the sentence to life imprisonment.
Buwa is not representing Cecil in the case, but accepted questions on his behalf after Cecil decided today to refer media calls to his attorney and others familiar with his legal situation.
Cecil was arrested Thursday on charges of “disobedience of lawful orders” from the Uganda Media Council which accuses him of staging the play “The River and the Mountain” in the capital city of Kampala at least twice after he was sent notice to suspend performances.
“His case is becoming quite delicate in the public and the authorities will see him as a promoter of homosexuality in Uganda, which of course is a ridiculous thought,” said Buwa.
Cecil operates a small theater and bar in Kampala and has lived in Uganda with his girlfriend and two children for at least three years. He previously told reporters he is not a gay activist, but he is driven to produce great art and simply wanted to contribute to Uganda’s theatrical tradition with a drama about a little discussed, but very real issue faced by people who are gay in Uganda.
“The content of our play is actually very mild. We don’t have any explicit reference to sex of any kind really. There’s no swearing. There’s no violence on stage. We actually deliberately constructed the narrative of the drama so that it would be family friendly, so that anyone could come and enjoy it. It’s a comedy drama,” Cecil told Radio France International shortly before he was jailed.
Cecil said the “The River and the Mountain,” written by a British poetry student Beau Hopkins, is about a young businessman who loses friends and family and is ultimately killed by his own employees after revealing he is gay. According to the Ugandan Daily Monitor newspaper, the Uganda Media Council said in court documents the play was found to be “obnoxious” with “violence towards persons of homosexual behavior and indeed implicitly promotes a deification of such persons.”
Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, Simon Lukodo, told the BBC he may also pursue legal action against the Ugandan actors in the play.
Buwa said Cecil and his attorney are no longer granting interviews to Ugandan media hoping to limit attention on the case. In a country where newspapers have publicly “outed” hundreds of gay people who then feared for their lives after being called “evil” and accused of “recruiting” children, Buwa fears Cecil will be vilified in the press.
“Being a foreigner, the whole thing about homosexuality being seen as a foreign practice being pushed on Uganda, he may be looked as an agent of Western influence bringing homosexuality to Uganda,” said Buwa.