The European Union and United States of America together with other members of Partners for Democracy and Governance Group (PDG) have shown concern about the arrests and continued detention of We are concerned of four prominent human rights champions, including renowned lawyer, Mr. Nicholas Opiyo.
In a joint statement released on Wednesday, the members which include Denmark (PDG Chair), Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, UK, USA, and the EU asserted that Mr. Opiyo is one of the many Ugandan citizens whose professionalism has helped build Uganda’s international reputation.
“We strongly emphasize the right of every Ugandan citizen to a due process including swift arraignment and formal notification of the charges, thorough investigations by national authorities as well as orderly access to legal representation, family and health professionals. If no charges are to be brought then we call for their immediate release,” a statement said in part.
The PDG members said “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.”
Mr Opiyo was arrested with three other lawyers; Herbert Dakasi, Anthony Odur and Esomu Obure as well as
Mr Hamid Tenywa, a National Unity Platform (NUP) human rights Officer by plain cloth security operatives and were whisked away.
The Uganda Police later on Tuesday confirmed Nicholas Opiyo and his colleagues were in their custody. “We would like to confirm the arrest of Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, by a Joint Task team of Security and Financial Intelligence,” a message on the force’s verified Twitter account said.
The force further said Mr Opiyo had been arrested on “allegations of money laundering and related malicious acts.”
The Police also said Wednesday that Mr Opiyo was still in their custody as detectives analyse exhibits that have so far been recovered.
The communication came just hours after Mr Opiyo’s legal team led by Mr David Mpanga visited him in the morning.
“We would like to further inform the public that the Task Team actively investigating lawyer Nicholas Opiyo and others for violating anti-Money laundering rules has deepened its investigations into the preliminary findings,” police tweeted Wednesday before adding: “…our forensic teams are analysing exhibits that have been recovered so far. The suspects still remain in our custody at the Special Investigations Division Kireka.”
According to reports, armed security officials in plain clothes yesterday confiscated Mr Opiyo’s laptop, documents, and his car keys as they arrested him at Lamaro restaurant located in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb. Moments later, the security team returned to the scene and drove away his car.
DP presidential candidate, Mr Norbert Mao who visited Opiyo in custody today said in a tweet that the Chapter Four Uganda Executive Director was “upbeat and totally unfazed by the allegations against him. Unfortunately the authorities didn’t agree to release him. Let’s persist in the campaign to #FreeNicholasOpiyo unconditionally.”
Opiyo’s arrest has since sparked condemnation from various quarters including foreign missions. In a statement posted on her official Twitter handle, the US Ambassador to Uganda, Natalie E. Brown described the arrest as troubling.
“I just met Opiyo and was impressed by his commitment to rule of law and to uplifting his fellow citizens. News of his arrest is troubling and I call on the Ugandan Government to ensure his safety and wellbeing. Civil society must be able to carry out its essential role in Uganda,” Natalie wrote.
Mr Opiyo is a renowned human rights defender who has consistently and constantly rubbed the government the wrong way in as far as human rights abuses are concerned.
His interviews with international media outlets have often drawn a backlash with the government, accusing him of working for foreign interests.
However, it’s not clear whether Opiyo’s arrest is in anyway connected to this accusation.
Last week, Financial Intelligence Authority froze accounts for four non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in good governance and election observation in the country.
Mr Opiyo represents the NGOs whose accounts were frozen by security last week on accusations of supporting terrorism in Uganda.
Additional information by the Daily Monitor.