Ugandan govt. charges leading human rights defender with money laundering

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A prominent human rights lawyer known for representing the LGBTQ community in Uganda was arrested on Tuesday on money laundering charges, which critics say are ‘frivolous’ and ‘fabricated’.

Nicholas Opiyo, executive director of Chapter Four Uganda, an organization that provides legal response to the abuse of civil rights of minorities, was remanded in custody until December 28.

Mr. Opiyo, the 2015 recipient of the Alison Des Forges award for extraordinary activism, appeared before magistrates in Kampala on Thursday and his case has been forwarded to the anti-corruption court.

The charge against Opiyo alleged that he withdrew US$340,000 (£252,000) from the Chapter Four Uganda organisation’s account on October 08, “knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime”.

Opiyo could not enter a plea because the court lacked jurisdiction to handle the case. He has been remanded in a prison about 50km (31 miles) from Kampala.

In a statement, the Chapter Four Uganda board said: “It is our firm belief that these are frivolous and fabricated charges and [it’s] further demonstration of closing civic space in Uganda. His lawyers are ready to defend him in court.”

Chapter Four added: “We’re monitoring his situation in detention closely to ensure he is safe.”

The 37-year-old was arrested in a restaurant in the capital, Kampala, on Tuesday by plainclothes security and financial intelligence officers.

Opiyo was detained with three other lawyers – Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur and Esomu Obure – and Hamid Tenywa, a human rights officer of Bobi Wine’s opposition party, National Unity Platform (NUP).

The other four were released on a police bond on Thursday and are required to reappear before a special investigations unit on December 29.

“We strongly condemn the malicious and fabricated charges intended to curtail the work of civil society organisations, legal practitioners and human rights defenders,” said Sarah Kihika Kasande, head of office at the International Center for Transitional Justice, at court.

The Partners for Democracy and Governance Group, a block of 14 delegations, including the US and EU, on Wednesday expressed “concern” over Opiyo’s arrest.

“Human rights defenders play an important role in every country and should be able to work without fear of arrest or reprisals, wherever they are,” said a joint statement. (Source: The Guardian)

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