British producer sent home over 'gay' play forced to leave Ugandan family

  • @jerometaylor

A British theatre producer was deported from Uganda after staging a play about homosexuality in the increasingly homophobic African nation.

David Cecil, 35, was thrown out of the country late on Monday night and landed back in Britain today. His Ugandan partner, with whom he has two children, said the family was given no warning of his deportation.

British officials in the capital, Kampala, expressed surprise that Mr Cecil had been unable to challenge his removal. Immigration officials told the Reuters news agency that the order to kick him out had come from a ministerial level.

His deportation comes at a time of fervent political debate about homosexuality, which is already illegal in Uganda. Spurred on by evangelical Christian preachers, conservative politicians are pushing for a law that would forbid the “promotion of homosexuality”. Under the proposed legislation, activists, artists, lawyers and even health workers could face seven years in jail if convicted of “funding and sponsoring... homosexuality and related activities”.

Mr Cecil has always denied being a gay rights activist and insisted that he was simply doing his job. He was first arrested last September on charges of disobeying orders to cancel the staging of a play, whose main character was a gay man. He was briefly jailed before being granted bail. In January, a court dropped the charges owing to the lack of proof.

The play, The River and The Mountain, examined the plight of a man coming out as gay and the motivation of Uganda’s powerful anti-gay lobby. The country’s government-run media council banned it, but it was still performed at several venues around Kampala in August. It appears that after failing to charge Mr Cecil with a crime, the Ugandan government  decided to instead deport him as an “undesirable immigrant”.

His partner, Florence Kebirungi, told the Agence France Presse news agency that Mr Cecil was taken on Monday evening from the police station where he was being held to the capital’s main airport, and then put on a flight to Britain. “He called me from the  airport – he didn’t sound OK,” Ms Kebirungi said.

She added that immigration officials told her that Mr Cecil was being deported because he was an “undesirable” person. “It is a big surprise as we did not have a chance to make a legal challenge,” she said.

Despite the deportation, his lawyers hope to file a case in the Ugandan High Court challenging the removal.