High-profile Ugandan LGBT+ rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo was “violently arrested” on money laundering charges in what activists have said was “an attack on human rights defenders”.
Opiyo is well-known for representing LGBT+ people in the harshly anti-LGBT+ African country. He was arrested in a restaurant in Kampala on Tuesday (22 December), according to Chapter Four Uganda, a human rights organisation of which he is executive director.
Four other lawyers were also arrested: Anthony Odur, Herbert Dakasi, Simon Peter Esomu and Tenywa Hamid.
The organisation said it was deeply concerned about the “abduction and incommunicado detention” of Opiyo.
He was reportedly arrested by more than a dozen plain-clothed men with guns at Lamaro Restaurant in the suburb of Kamwokya. He was subsequently handcuffed and blindfolded alongside the four other lawyers.
‘Brutal abduction’ of human rights advocate Nicholas Opiyo condemned.
“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,” Chapter Four said in a statement released Tuesday.
“We condemn this brutal abduction and we call upon our colleagues and partners to condemn this arbitrary violation of his personal liberty, incommunicado detention, and call for his immediate unconditional release.”
Advocates for Nicholas Opiyo were granted access to see him at 11am on Wednesday (23 December).
“I feel OK health-wise – but my captors have not told me what I am being charged with. I have done nothing wrong, and of that I am absolutely sure,” Opiyo told activists.
They should have summoned him to the police to record a statement. Instead, he was violently arrested and detained incommunicado.
Chapter Four condemned the “high-handed and brutal” arrest, saying the country’s constitution is clear that a person charged with a criminal offence should be informed immediately of the charges levelled against them.
“Nicholas Opiyo is a fearless defender of human rights. His bold, unapologetic conviction and tireless work towards upholding and defending the constitutionally guaranteed rights for all is what the country needs,” said Angelo Izama, a board member with the organisation.
“We must fight against any efforts to crucify him on the altar of evolving political circumstances because wherever human beings exist – so will inalienable human rights.”
Opiyo appeared in court on Thursday (24 December) where he was remanded custody. His case was adjourned to 28 December.
His application for bail could not be heard because the court does not have jurisdiction, according to local media reports.
UPDATE: @nickopiyo has been remanded. Matter adjourned to December 28. Bail application could not be heard because the court has no jurisdiction. File has been forwarded to the Anti-Corruption Court through the High Court Registrar. #FreeNicholasOpiyo | #Uganda pic.twitter.com/aOSIcMLw6J
— Chapter Four Uganda (@chapterfourug) December 24, 2020
Sarah Kihika Kasande, head of office at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, told The Guardian that the money-laundering allegations were baseless.
“They should have summoned him to the police to record a statement. Instead, he was violently arrested and detained incommunicado.”
She criticised authorities for denying his lawyers and family access to him following his arrest, saying: “This attack on human rights defenders demonstrates a regime in panic.”
Opiyo has been a vocal defender of the LGBT+ community in Uganda for many years, and he has faced repeated death threats and attacks for his advocacy work.