A leading human rights lawyer and founder of a rights organization in Uganda was denied bail and charged in a money-laundering case on Thursday.
Nicholas Opiyo, the founder of Chapter Four Uganda, a civil liberties watchdog, is known for defending leaders and supporters of opposition parties allegedly detained on politically-motivated charges.
He was besieged on Tuesday along with three other lawyers and a human rights officer by a number of plain-clothed gunmen at Lamaro Restaurant in Kampala, handcuffed, blindfolded, and whisked away in a tinted-glasses van in a convoy of three vehicles.
Police later confirmed the arrest by the Special Investigations Division (SID) for his alleged involvement in money-laundering and other related acts.
Denying him bail, a local court charged Opiyo with money-laundering and neglect in submitting annual returns to the NGO Bureau. Opiyo will be presented before court again on Dec. 28.
In a statement, Opiyo’s organization said the arrest was part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of elections in the landlocked East African country next month.
The developments come at a time when several organizations, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, have raised concerns over the pre-election environment in Uganda, which has been characterized by increased restrictions on civic space.
The commission noted that recently the Financial Intelligence Authority ordered the freezing of bank accounts held by several non-government organizations, accusing them of financing terrorism.
These acts, according to the commission, amount to intimidation and delegitimization of non-governmental organizations, particularly those working on human rights and promoting good governance.