David Cecil
David Cecil (Mark Schenkel)

A British theatre producer is facing two years in jail or deportation in Uganda for staging a play about homosexuality, a UK-based freedom of expression lobby group reported.

David Cecil, 34, was arrested in Kampala and detained for three days after staging The River and the Mountain, a play about a successful gay businessman who is murdered by his employees when he comes out.

He faces two years in jail or deportation for "disobeying lawful orders" after he refused to let the authorities suspend and review his play, according to Index on Censorship.

In September, the producer decided to move the play from the National Theatre to private venues after receiving a letter from the country's Media Council, which regulates Uganda's media, stating that the play was suspended pending an official content review.

After eight performances seen by an invited audience, Cecil was arrested and then released.

Cecil, who has lived in Uganda for two years, always maintained that the perfomance was not politically motivated.

"We had minor problems - criticism, perhaps abuse, but nothing on this scale," he said. "We were warned, but since the play is not politically motivated, nor does it in any way promote homosexuality or criticise the government, we were not remotely worried.

"Anyone who saw the play - locals, expats, academics, even clergy - was deeply shocked at my arrest. It is a comedy drama, not an advocacy piece."

His second hearing is taking place Thursday. Cecil'a lawyers claim that the Media Council is supposed to be an advisory body without executive powers and therefore his case should not have legal consequences.

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.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Uganda and gay people have previously faced physical attacks and social rejection. 

The development came after a Ugandan official said the government will approve the infamous anti-gay bill, which caused an international outcry after the brutal murder of gay activist David Kato., by the end of 2012.