Freemuse and PEN America’s Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) call on the Ugandan government to drop all ongoing investigations against dancer and choreographer Oscar Ssenyonga for organizing the Tuzinne Festival: Where Human Rights Dance on 15 November 2019 at the National Theatre in Uganda.
Ssenyonga, the Artistic Director of the Tuzinne Festival and Managing Director of Mambya Dance Company, is an accomplished dancer and choreographer who empowers Ugandan dancers and trains young entrepreneurs in the field of performing and visual art. On 6 January 2020, the Ugandan Communications Commission issued a letter threatening to cancel and withdraw official licenses from any media channels and stations and local bloggers that interview Mr Ssenyonga or host him for any public gathering.
According to attendees, participants, and the festival’s organizers, the Tuzinne Festival was raided and shut down, with many performers physically attacked, by Ugandan police despite the fact that no one violated any laws or regulations. The attacks targeted the festival’s fashion show which featured trans women models. For the past three years, the Tuzinne Festival has provided a platform for traditional and contemporary dancers in Uganda and across Sub-Saharan Africa, as well as LGBTQI+ and/or disabled dancers, a stage to perform their work.
This is the first time the Tuzinne Festival has been targeted but comes at a time of heightened threats against both freedom of expression and LGBTQI+ rights in the country. Ugandan authorities have cracked down on the LGBTQI+ community, particularly ramping up in October 2019 after the Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo said that parliament planned to introduce a bill criminalizing the “promotion and recruitment by gay people.”
Read the letter from Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) and Freemuse on Harassment and Investigation against Oscar Ssenyonga and LGBTQI+ Artists in Uganda.