13 Feb 2013

Deportation ‘crazy’ says Uganda gay play producer

A British theatre producer who spent five nights in a Ugandan police cell before being deported tells Channel 4 News his treatment was a throwback to the days of dictator Idi Amin.

David Cecil was originally arrested in September after his play, which tells the story of a gay businessman, was performed in private theatres in Kampala without authorisation.

The legal case against him was dismissed on 2 January – at the time he told Channel 4 News he was “very relieved and happy”.

But on 6 February Mr Cecil was rearrested and locked up for five days before being deported to the UK. His Ugandan girlfriend and two young children are still in Kampala.

The theatre producer from west London said the conditions inside the police station were “very grim” and that he was eventually kicked out of Uganda after initially being told he was free to go.

I think that the most scary thing for my friends and family in Uganda was they just had no idea where I was. David Cecil

“I was immediately led into a car with three plain-clothed officers and an armed guard, and was then driven at high speed to Entebbe airport where I was put into another locked room without being told what was going on. I was then led onto a plane and suddenly found myself in London,” he said.

“In all honesty it felt like I was in an (Idi) Amin-era extraordinary rendition – during the days of Idi Amin people would be carted off in cars and taken God knows where … I think that the most scary thing for my friends and family in Uganda was they just had no idea where I was.”

Freedom of speech

David Cecil maintains his play – The River and the Mountain – does not promote gay rights and was not intended to influence policy. He describes it as “entertainment”.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, and the country’s parliament is considering introducing harsher penalties for homosexual acts.

Mr Cecil said his case has always been about freedom of speech rather than gay rights but he admits the gay rights situation in Uganda is worrying: “People are just talking past each other and there’s very little debate happening on a social level.

“Even though the play was not politically motivated, what our play tried to do, if anything beyond entertainment, was to open lines of dialogue that left room for both sides to speak, so we didn’t champion gay rights but at the same time we represented homosexuals as human beings.

“We tried to strike a balance.”

David Cecil now plans to appeal against his deportation but it will be several months before he finds out if he is successful.