KAMPALA, Uganda – Human Rights Watch and other rights groups are calling on Ugandan authorities to release a prominent lawyer who is being held by police on criminal charges.
Nicholas Opiyo, who has represented opposition and minority groups, was arrested Tuesday while eating at a restaurant in the suburbs of Kampala, the capital. Police say he will be charged with “money laundering and related malicious acts”. Opiyo has yet to be officially charged.
Critics of long-time President Yoweri Museveni see the arrest as part of a campaign of repression against alleged government opponents ahead of the presidential elections in January. Opiyo previously represented Bobi Wine, the singer and lawmaker who is Museveni’s main antagonist.
Local media reports that Opiyo represented at least two civic groups whose bank accounts were recently blocked by authorities who accused the groups of suspected terrorist activities.
The arrest “sends shocking news of the authorities’ (disregard for) fundamental rights,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Chapter 4 Uganda, a group led by Opiyo, said it was “deeply concerned about the abduction and incommunicado detention”.
Clement Voule, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Gathering, said on Twitter that he was very concerned about the “increasing crackdown” against civic groups and those who represent dissenting voices in Uganda.
Museveni has ruled Uganda for 34 years. Although still popular in some rural parts of the country, he has endeavored to attract impoverished, unemployed Ugandans in urban centers who have teamed up behind opposition groups like Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
Museveni can seek more time in office after lawmakers removed the final constitutional barrier – age limits – to the 76-year-old leader’s possible life presidency.
Rodney Muhumuza, The Associated Press