Opposition figures say charges against Nicholas Opiyo, known for defending the rights of society’s most vulnerable, are baseless
Nicholas Opiyo, founder of Chapter Four Uganda, was arrested with four other human rights activists. Photograph: Maurizio Gambarini/dpa/Alamy
Security agencies in Uganda have arrested a prominent human rights lawyer over alleged money laundering.
Nicholas Opiyo, known for representing LGBTQ+ people, was arrested in a restaurant in the capital, Kampala, on Tuesday by plainclothes security and financial intelligence officers.
Opiyo, executive director of rights organisation Chapter Four Uganda, was seized along with three other lawyers – Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur and Esomu Obure – and Hamid Tenywa, human rights officer of Bobi Wine’s opposition party, National Unity Platform (NUP).
Ugandan police tweeted that Opiyo had been arrested on allegations of money laundering and “related malicious acts”.
“The investigations are progressing well and any new developments will be communicated in due course. He remains in our custody at the special investigations division,” the tweet said.
Opiyo’s arrest comes barely a week after he represented two NGOs – Uganda National NGO Forum and the Uganda Women’s Network – whose accounts were frozen by security forces over terrorism allegations.
In a statement, the Chapter Four Uganda board said: “We condemn this brutal abduction and we call upon our colleagues and partners to condemn the arbitrary violation of his personal liberty, incommunicado detention and call for his immediate unconditional release.”
Wine, who is running for president in next month’s election, 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.”
Natalie Brown, US ambassador in Uganda, called the arrest “troubling”. “Civil society must be able to carry out its essential role in Uganda.”
Sarah Kihika Kasande, head of office at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, said the money-laundering allegations were baseless, adding: “They should have summoned him to the police to record a statement. Instead, he was violently arrested and detained incommunicado.
“They have not allowed his family or lawyers to access him in violation of his constitutional rights. This attack on human rights defenders demonstrates a regime in panic.”
Opiyo, 2015 recipient of the Alison Des Forges award for extraordinary activism, has worked tirelessly since 2005 to defend civil liberties in Uganda, often for free and on behalf of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised.
He has faced verbal attacks and even death threats for defending LGBTQ+ rights in Uganda.