The “Dinner Club”; a movie made in the Netherlands and released in 2010; was due for screening at the European Film Festival in Uganda before it was banned by the Media Council.
The council gave six reasons for banning the movie i.e. Criminal Acts, Imitable Behavior, Language and Profanity, Sex, Violence, Nudity and Substance, and Alcohol. To the Dutch Embassy the council went on to state that the movie “”While glorifying homosexuality two women say marriage (presumably to men) is hard work! This is against Ugandan values”, contains “steamy sex scenes”; “lurid language”; and “smoking especially by women”, according to council officials in the landlocked African nation, where gay sex is illegal.
On the club formed by the women depicted in the movie the council added in its rejection letter “is in reality a sort of brothel.”
The Dutch embassy, which posted the list of objections on Facebook, said it “deplores” the decision to ban the film and would withdraw from participating in the festival. This decision to censor the film on these bases is in violation of international standards on freedom of expression, which require the right to be guaranteed for all without discrimination, and limit the grounds on which expression can be restricted based on “morals”.
Henry Maina the Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa and who has recently worked on African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms said, “Censorship of this kind by the Media Council is not only discriminatory, but unconstitutional. The Ugandan Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 29, and this decision denies that right. This is not only a significant blow to artistic expression in Uganda, but a worrying example of discrimination against LGBT expression, which is likely to cause further self-censorship among LGBT people in the country.”
Uganda has previously banned films depicting sexual scenes; however this most recent ban is particularly concerning given the existing repression of LGBT expression in the country. Cases of censorship continue across Eastern Africa, particularly through restrictive and punitive film regulation policies aimed at curtailing production of works that could elicit critical discussion on the status of governance, human rights and equality in the region.
In neighboring Kenya the Kenya Films and Classification Board (KFCB) has also tried to curtail creative works and freedom of expression. In 2014, KFCB banned the exhibition and distribution of Stories of Our Lives, a film about the queer community in Kenya, supposedly for production without a license. Then in November 2016, attempts by KFCB to introduce a repressive film policy were thwarted following sustained opposition by the creative and media industry.
These bans are a flagrant abuse of power as any decision to censor freedom of expression must meet the three part test of legality, legitimacy, and necessity. “The transparency of the film licensing process in the region must be addressed to prevent its use for these restrictions, and the Ugandan government must ensure it abides by its international obligation to protect the right to free expression for all, without discrimination” added Maina.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. These repressive regimes are attempting to block, limit and inhibit this freedom across the population as a whole and curtail the representation and participation in public discourse of groups who struggle to gain full access to freedom of expression for a wide range of reasons including poverty, discrimination and cultural pressures.
It is therefore important for the citizenry to push for greater transparency in the decision-making process by involving film makers, distributors and the general public.