Jerome Starkey, Africa Correspondent
A British man arrested in Uganda for producing a play about the plight of homosexuals vowed to press ahead with plans for a regional tour yesterday when he was released on £124 bail after being held for four days.
David Cecil was arrested on Thursday and charged with “disobeying an order from a public official”, amid allegations that he staged the play without permission.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and the parliament proposed “a raft of oppressive legislation” in 2009 which would make it a capital offence.
“This latest incident is another example of the Government’s efforts to close down the space for ideas and divergent opinions,” said Maria Burnet, the Uganda researcher for Human Rights Watch.
Mr Cecil, 34, could be jailed for as long as two years if convicted. He surrendered his passport to the court in Kampala and agreed to return for trial on October 18.
“People are using the issue of homosexuality to get at someone who has annoyed them,” he told The Times.
The play, The River and the Mountain, tells the story of a gay Ugandan businessman whose life disintegrates after he is forced to reveal his sexuality by a vindictive boss.
The Ugandan Media Council wrote to Mr Cecil before the play was staged, warning him it would be “pre-emptive” to perform it. He said he thought the letter was advisory and not legally binding. In 2005 the council blocked a production of The Vagina Monologues, on the grounds that it promoted “illegal, unnatural sexual acts, homosexuality and prostitution”.
Mr Cecil said that he was well treated in prison, but he was looking forward to seeing his girlfriend and dining on steak and red wine, before resuming preparations to tour the play in Kenya.
“It was like a very strict Victorian boarding school,” he said of his incarceration. “Contrary to expectations the Ugandan prison system seems very fair. I wasn’t harmed in any way. The people were very friendly, including the wardens, but the food was terrible.”
His lawyer, John Francis Onyango, said he was confident of their case.