December 24: Nicholas Opiyo, one of Uganda’s most prominent human rights lawyers, has been charged with money laundering.
Opiyo, known for representing LGBTQ+ people, appeared before magistrates in Kampala on Thursday and was remanded in custody until 28 December, the Guardian reported.
The case has been forwarded to the anti-corruption court.
It is alleged that Opiyo, executive director of rights group Chapter Four Uganda, acquired $340,000 (£252,000) through the organisation’s account on 8 October, “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. He 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 29 December.
“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.
Opiyo was the 2015 recipient of the Alison Des Forges award for extraordinary activism.