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Top rights lawyer and Museveni critic arrested

Top rights lawyer and Museveni critic arrested

Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer and founder of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan-based rights organisation, has been held by the police since Tuesday.

Since 2005, Mr Opiyo has worked to promote civil liberties in Uganda pro bono. He is also a vocal critic of the President Yoweri Museveni-led government.

According to his organisation, Mr Opiyo and four other lawyers; Anthony Odur, Herbert Dasaki, Peter Simon Esomu, and Tenywa Hamid, were besieged by “more than a dozen plain-clothed gun-wielding men at Lamaro Restaurant in the Kampala suburb of Kamwokya.”

They were handcuffed, blindfolded, and whisked away in a tinted van in a convoy of three vehicles, the group added.

In its reaction, the Ugandan police claimed that Mr Opiyo was arrested on allegations of money laundering and related offences, stating that investigations were still ongoing.

“Investigations are progressing well and any new developments will be communicated in due course. He remains in our custody at the Special Investigations Division.

“We would like to confirm the arrest of Lawyer @nickopiyo, by a Joint Task team of Security and Financial Intelligence, on allegations of money laundering and related malicious acts,” the force wrote on Twitter.

Mr Opiyo and the other four were however denied access to their lawyers or relatives for more than 20 hours as they were detained at the Special Investigations Division in Kireka.

On Wednesday, Chapter Four Uganda’s legal team led David Mpanga and Stephen Tumwesigye, together with the president of the Uganda Law Society, Pheona Wall, were finally granted access to meet them in detention.

“I feel okay health-wise – but my captors have not told me what I am being charged with. I have done nothing wrong, and of that I am absolutely sure,” Mr Opiyo was quoted to have said, seeing his team members.

The group added that on the same day, the police searched his residence in the presence of his lawyers but went away with nothing.


While Mr Opiyo is still in detention, rights activists and organisations across the globe have condemned the actions of the Ugandan government, demanding his release.

Roberts Ssentamu, an opposition leader also known as Bobi Wine, demanded that Mr Opiyo be freed as his arrest and incarceration contradicts the law.

“In total disregard of the law, human rights lawyer @nickopiyo and team were denied access to lawyers, family members & medical personnel yesterday! Nicholas’ daily work involves trying to secure freedom for activists held under the circumstances he is held now. #FreeNicholasOpiyo,” he wrote on Twitter, citing Article 23 of the Ugandan constitution.

“Where a person is restricted or detained: the next-of-kin of that person shall, at the request of that person, be informed as soon as practicable of the restriction or detention;

(b) the next-of-kin, lawyer and personal doctor of that person shall be allowed reasonable access to that person; and

(c) that person shall be allowed access to medical treatment including, at the request and at the cost of that person, access to private medical treatment,” the constitution stipulates.

Also, a Joint Civil Society Statement signed by non-governmental organisations and individuals, condemned the manner in which they were arrested, saying it was tantamount to an abduction.

“The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, guarantee at a minimum, all arrested persons fundamental due process rights, including the rights to be immediately informed of the reason of the arrest; immediate access to a legal practitioner of one’s choice and the right to be promptly produced before a court of law. The ongoing incommunicado detention of the above-named individuals is thus a violation of Uganda’s regional and international human rights obligations.”

The group further stated that the arrests of Mr. Opiyo and his colleagues come at a time when several organizations including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have raised concerns over the pre-election environment in Uganda, which has been characterized by increased restrictions on civic space.

“This has included arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force and restrictions on the exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression.”

“Most recently, the Financial Intelligence Authority ordered the freezing of bank accounts held by several non- government organizations, accusing them of financing terrorism. These acts amount to intimidation and delegitimisation of non-governmental organizations, particularly those working on human rights and promoting good governance.”

The group called on the Ugandan government to immediately and unconditionally release Mr Opiyo and his colleagues and grant them access to their lawyers and family and the reasons for their arrest.

Julia Sánchez, the secretary general of Action Aid International, also condemned the arrest of Mr Opiyo, saying the lawyer has dedicated his life and profession to fighting for social justice and seeking peace and reconciliation in Uganda.

“His arrest fits a pattern of increasing crackdown on dissent and attacks on civil society in Uganda by agents of the state security establishment as the country nears its next general election scheduled to take place next month on 14th January 2021.

“We are particularly dismayed by the timing of this arrest that comes at a time when Nicholas was leading civil society efforts to challenge cascaded attacks by state agencies against civil society organizations and initiatives, including the recent freezing of NGO accounts by the Financial Intelligence Authority.

“We remind the security forces and the government of Uganda of its obligation to respect and protect human rights of citizens and the rule of Law in Uganda.

“ActionAid International joins the rest of civil society in Uganda and elsewhere in condemning the manner of his arrest and demand his immediate unconditional release or production in Uganda’s Courts of Law,” Mr Sánchez wrote.

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