Gay rights campaigners in Uganda and around the world are celebrating a decision by the country's constitutional court to strike down a widely condemned anti-gay law on a legal technicality.
Activists in the courtroom cheered after a panel of five
judges ruled that the speaker of parliament acted illegally when she allowed a vote on the measure despite at least three objections that not enough MPs were in attendance.
While celebrating the ruling, activists warned that homosexuality remained
a criminal offence in the east African country under colonial-era laws.
Charges against British theatre producer David Cecil were dropped by a Ugandan court on 2nd January. Cecil, who faced trial for producing a play with a gay theme without permission from the country's Media Council, told Index the magistrate had
declared the case dismissed as the prosecution had failed to disclose any evidence.
Cecil was arrested in September last year, when his theatre company refused to halt its production of The River and the Mountain pending a content review by
the Ugandan Media Council.
Index on Censorship and David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic, launched a petition calling for the charges against Cecil to be dropped which was signed by more than 2,500 people, including director Mike
Leigh, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig andactor Simon Callow.
Cecil told Index:
Evidently, there is a minority in the government and cultural industry who are willing to sacrifice the constitutional right to freedom
of expression to their personal prejudices. However, the unsuccessful prosecution of this case is encouraging, and I pray that those working in the cultural industry are not put off by this oppressive and self-interested minority.
Mike Harris, Head of Advocacy at Index on Censorship said:
We're very pleased for David that the magistrate has dismissed this case --- but concerns remain over the state of free speech in Uganda. Since this prosecution, the Media Council has intervened to censor yet another
political play. The government and its agencies need to do more to defend free speech.
David Cecil, the British theatre producer arrested in Uganda in 2012 for staging a play with a homosexual protagonist, is being held in police custody after being threatened with deportation.
Immigration officers took Cecil from his home in the
outskirts of the capital, Kampala, on Thursday to Jinja Road police station, where he is being held. Fridah Mutesi, a human rights lawyer in Uganda, said the government did not disclose the grounds on which Cecil was being deported, but that it had the
power to deport individuals deemed undesirable .
In January Cecil was charged with disobeying lawful orders by the Uganda media council, which said he had staged The River and The Mountain despite being told not to. The case was dismissed
owing to a lack of evidence. It is believed that the deportation order is a result of his staging the play, which Cecil has described as a comedy drama about a gay businessman killed by his employees . The producer's lawyer, Godwin Buwa, said the
government was unhappy about Cecil's court case last month being dismissed.
Only days before the play was set to open in August, Cecil received a letter from the country's Media Council, the body tasked with regulation of
media. It stated the play was to be suspended pending an official content review. Cecil and his company, under legal advice, interpreted this as a request rather than an order. Initially, the play was to run at the National Theatre, open to the general
public but Cecil decided to move the production to private venues and eight performances were seen by an invited audience. Cecil was arrested after the short run, and branded a gay rights activist by an angry media.
Cecil's second hearing is
taking place tomorrow. There, it will be decided if the prosecution have enough evidence to take the case to court. Cecil's legal team will argue that there were no references to any parts of the constitution or penal code in the letter from the Media
Council. It did not refer to any legal consequences if they should choose to perform the play. Furthermore, Cecil says the Media Council is supposed to be an advisory body, it holds no executive authority over individuals' rights to express themselves.
A petition calling for the charges against Cecil to be dropped has been signed by more than 2,500 people, including
Mike Leigh, Stephen Fry, Sandi Toksvig and Simon Callow. The petition was organised by Index on Censorship and David Lan, the artistic director of the Young Vic.