This week we received word from Uganda that renowned human rights lawyer and Executive Director of Chapter Four, Nicholas Opiyo, has been abducted and is being held in some form of unlawful detention by Ugandan security forces. There are disputing reports about the nature of the detention.
This comes on the heels of several illegal detentions and arrests of Ugandan politicians opposing dictatorial President Yoweri Museveni's current presidential re-election campaign. African Human Rights Coalition considers Mr. Opiyo a friend and colleague, benefitting from his partnership and accomplishments these past years: "Together with other human rights organization we call on the Ugandan government to ensure Mr. Opiyo's immediate release and for Ugandans to be allowed a free and fair election process, in the name of democracy," noted Melanie Nathan from African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC).
Nicholas Opiyo has courageously represented political figures and human rights activists, taking on the most daunting of cases, especially considering Uganda's failed human rights and political climate which is fraught with oppression and persecution.
Following the abduction there are rumors that Mr. Opiyo has been arrested and detained, accused together with 4 others of money laundering. We have not heard of any court proceeding or formal charges.
This reaction to human rights defebnders is typical of the Museveni regime, noting the timing around elections. Also abducted and possibly detained are Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur and Esomu Obure, and Hamid Tenywa, human rights officer of Bobi Wine’s opposition party, National Unity Platform (NUP).
Bobi Wine, a member of the Ugandan Parliament is running for president in a robust campaign to oust 30 year-long Dictator Museveni. The body of work, political affiliations of all detained and timing are so revealing and speaks volumes to the political oppression.
Apparently Ugandan police tweeted that Opiyo had been arrested on allegations of money laundering and “related malicious acts”, noting further that “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."
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."
Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of AHRC noted: “This abduction or detention is unconscionable and so obviously designed to intimidate as well as punish Mr. Opiyo for his human rights work. This has occurred just before Uganda’s imminent 2021 election. This past month has seen a dramatic rise in the disappearances, abductions and unlawful detentions of political figures and their supporters. African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) has received reports of such detentions with torture during the course of this month as well as in the past. This is common in the pre-election stages, since Museveni took office over 30 years ago. These abductions and detentions have served to thwart effective opposition, terrorize citizens from fair voting, shut down rallies and it is precisely what has kept Museveni in office for all these decades, clearly reflecting that Uganda is not the democracy it purports to be.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights reports:
“Opiyo’s supporters in Uganda report that he has been actively investigating a series of murders in mid-November by Ugandan security forces and is readying a challenge to the government’s decision to pressure Google and Facebook to take down web pages of political opposition figures and human rights activists. The detention of Opiyo is undoubtedly retaliation for his advocacy to protect human rights and democracy in Uganda, including his fearless defense of LGBTQIA+ people. We join calls from human rights defenders and partners around the world in demanding the immediate, unconditional release of Opiyo.”
In response to Uganda’s detention Chapter Four Uganda issued the following statement: "Chapter Four Uganda is deeply concerned about the abduction and incommunicado detention of our Executive Director, Nicholas Opiyo earlier today afternoon by unknown security operatives. Chapter Four is further concerned about the safety and well-being of Mr. Opiyo, considering that he is being held outside of the protection of the law. We are in the process of gathering facts and reviewing the situation and we will be taking measures to ensure his prompt release. 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. Chapter Four legal team is taking action to ensure that Mr. Opiyo's rights are respected and to ensure his prompt and unconditional release. Chapter Four Board." Recently Presidential candidate from opposing party NUP, MP Hon. Bobi Wine and NUP party Member of Parliament Hon. Nabilah N. Ssempala were also unlawfully detained by Ugandan forces and recently released. More on those detentions articles can be found HERE and HERE.
All International human rights groups and governments are called upon to demand the immediate release of Nicholas Opiyo and his associates.