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Equity protests at Ugandan jailing of UK actor

22 February 2013

Equity has sent a letter of protest to the Ugandan embassy in London over the jailing of a British citizen for appearing in a play in Kampala which exposes the plight of homosexuals in the country.

According to reports in the Independent newspaper, Keith Prosser was arrested by Ugandan police following his appearance in the play The River and the Mountain, in which a group of Ugandan employees kills their own boss when they learn he is gay. He has been held in a Kampala detention centre for the past eight days. The picture left shows keith Prosser in performance in the play.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda and the authorities had tried to block the play, which was staged in Kampala. David Cecil, another British citizen who produced the play, was also arrested but deported on Monday as an “undesirable immigrant”. In September last year Equity protested when David Cecil was arrested and jailed in an attempt by the Kampala authorities to prevent the play being staged.

Equity's Assistant General Secretary Martin Brown has written to Deputy High Commissioner Isaac Sebulime Biruma condemning Keith Prosser's detention. "Equity believes in the freedom of artistic expression and opposes the repression or art or artists in all circumstances. It cannot be justified to detain an actor because of the content of the production they are performing in and Equity is calling for Mr Prosser’s immediate release from detention."

Equity members can add their names to the protest by e-mailing the Ugandan High Commission at: info@ugandahighcommission.co.uk.

Now back in London, David Cecil has told the Independent he is concerned for Keith, a part-time actor who works as an administrator at Uganda’s Cavendish University, and is also now facing deportation. “Keith is not in the best of health, he is vulnerable,” said Mr Cecil.

In the play, staged twice last year, Keith played an evangelical Pastor who “spreads the gospel of homophobia,” David Cecil said. Keith Prosser was arrested for a visa irregularity but the motivation behind his detention was the anger caused by the play, the producer claimed. In his 50s, Keith, who was due to appear in a production of Macbeth at the Uganda National Theatre next month, is said to be in a frail condition. He was forced to share a crowded detention cell with no beds.

David Cecil was first imprisoned when Uganda’s media council said it had not authorised his play. A court threw the case out, citing a lack of evidence. He was re-arrested last week as the Ugandan parliament prepares to debate a strict new anti-homosexuality bill, which would criminalise the promotion of homosexuality and failure to report it.

David plans to appeal against his deportation in Uganda’s high court. He was imprisoned and expelled without being able to say goodbye to his partner Florence Kebirungi and their two young children. “It’s very distressing for my partner. I don’t know when I’m going to see my children again,” he said.

But he has no regrets over staging the controversial play, which examines the interplay between religion, politics, and sexuality in a society where homosexuals are forced into secrecy and activists receive death threats.

David said: “A wide range of people came to see the play and there were only two walk-outs. Uganda is not a violently homophobic society but the conception is distorted by a handful of politicians and pastors who are doing immense harm to the country. Our arrests were the result of bureaucratic careerism within the authorities.”

The Foreign Office has expressed its concern over the treatment of the two Britons to the Uganda High Commission.

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