by Sabine Hannakampf
Nicholas Opiyo, one of Uganda’s best-known human rights lawyers, was arrested on flimsy grounds and charged with money laundering.
Ugandan security authorities arrested prominent lawyer Nicholas Opiyo on 22 December for alleged money laundering and “related malicious acts”. Opiyo allegedly withdrew US$340,000 from the account of the organisation he founded, Chapter Four Uganda, on 8 October “knowing that the said funds were proceeds of crime”.
“Investigations are progressing well and new developments will be communicated in due course. He remains in custody of the Special Investigations Unit,” Uganda Police tweeted after the arrest.
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.
— Uganda Police Force (@PoliceUg) December 22, 2020
According to Chapter Four’s press release, the allegations are fictitious. For the head of the Ugandan office of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, Sarah Kihika Kasande, the allegations of money laundering are also unfounded.
“They should have called him to the police to record a statement. Instead, he was forcibly arrested and detained without contact with the outside world.”
The first hearing was held on 24 December. The judge had denied Opiyo bail on the grounds that he had no jurisdiction over the case. The Supreme Court hearing scheduled for 28 December was postponed to 11 January. Nicholas Opiyo remains in custody until then.
UPDATE: @nickopiyo has been further remanded to January 11, 2021 at 9 AM for mention of his case.
His bail application has been filed in the High Court and has been fixed for hearing on Wednesday Dec. 30 at 9 AM. We'll issue a short statement soon.#FreeNicholasOpiyo | #Uganda pic.twitter.com/x6NdKiUcCS
— Chapter Four Uganda (@chapterfourug) December 28, 2020
Opiyo: Human Rights Advocate
Nicholas Opiyo is one of the most important actors in the struggle for human and civil rights in Uganda. As a lawyer, he advocates for the weakest and most marginalised sections of the population, mostly free of charge.
Opiyo has filed and won several important constitutional challenges: the successful challenge to the Anti-Pornography Act and the Public Order Acts restricting fundamental rights can be traced back to him. Opiyo was also instrumental in the conception of the law that makes torture a criminal offence in Uganda.
The queer community is likely to know Nicholas Opiyo mainly in connection with the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Opiyo was instrumental in the repeal of the controversial law introduced in 2013, which gained sad notoriety in the Western media as the “Kill the Gays” law (male* background).
Opiyo sued against the controversial law and obtained its invalidity in a case before the Ugandan Constitutional Court. On 1 August 2014, the law was declared “null and void” by the Constitutional Court.
What is hidden behind the accusation?
For Julia Sánchez, secretary general of ActionAid International, the arrest “fits the pattern of an increasing crackdown on dissent and attacks on civil society in Uganda by agents of the state security service as the country approaches the next general election, due on 14 January 2021.”
Opiyo had last represented presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine. Wine is one of East Africa’s biggest pop stars and is seen as Museveni’s strongest challenger in next month’s elections.
Yoweri Museveni has been in office since 1986. The presidential elections in January are expected to help him win his sixth term. But Ugandan youth in particular see Museveni as little more than an ageing despotic leader who fears for his power. They are drawn to Bobi Wine. The singer inspires with his catchy pop songs in which he criticises the government and calls on young people to go to the polls. His commitment earned him the nickname “Ghetto President”.
Wine has been arrested several times for “pissing off” the president. At least 54 people were reportedly killed by security forces in the recent November 2020 protests triggered by one of the musician’s countless arrests (source).
On Opiyo’s arrest, Bobi Wine tweeted:
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 pic.twitter.com/QeXdQto19I
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) December 23, 2020
- Nicholas_Opiyo: By facebook.com/N.Opiyo101
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