Update on the detention of Nicholas Opiyo on frivolous charges

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(December 23, 2020 / Kampala, Uganda) Chapter Four reiterates its call for the unconditional and immediate release of Nicholas Opiyo, a renowned human rights lawyer and the Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, and four lawyers, Anthony Odur, Herbert Dakasi, Simon Peter Esomu, and Tenywa Hamid.

At about 11 am on Wednesday 23rd December 2020, Chapter Four Uganda’s legal team led by Advocate David F. Mpanga and Stephen Tumwesigye, together with the President of the Uganda Law Society, Pheona Wall, were finally granted access to meet Mr. Nicholas Opiyo, and his four colleagues, after at least 20 hours in incommunicado detention at the Special Investigations Division in Kireka. Nicholas was in good spirits. He says that he has been treated well while in custody, and he is humbled by the continued show of solidarity, support, and fortitude to stand for human rights.

“I feel okay 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,” said Nicholas Opiyo.

This evening, the police searched his residence in the presence of his lawyers. Nothing was, however, taken away.

On Tuesday, December 22, 2020, Nicholas Opiyo, our Executive Director, and four other lawyers, Anthony Odur, Herbert Dasaki, Peter Simon Esomu, and Tenywa Hamid, were besieged by more than a dozen plain-clothed gun-wielding men at Lamaro Restaurant in the Kampala suburb of Kamwokya. They were handcuffed, blindfolded, and whisked away in a tinted van in a convoy of three vehicles.

We note with deep concern that Herbert Dasaki, Peter Simon Esomu, Anthony Odur Peter Simon Esomu, and Tenywa Hamid were assaulted while being driven to Kireka Special Investigations Division (SID). The four lawyers were further detained in a congested police cell, exposing them to the risk of contracting COVID19

The Chapter Four team further learned that none of the officers identified themselves during the arrest, as required by the law. Additionally, it is not possible to establish which security agency is responsible for his arrest. This was further confirmed by the police commander at Kireka SID, who admitted that they were mere custodians of Mr. Opiyo and his colleagues and were following directives from a higher authority.

We condemn the high-handed and brutal manner in which Mr. Opiyo, an Advocate, and his colleagues were arrested and detained, contrary to the law that requires arresting officers to identify themselves and use no more force than necessary when effecting an arrest. Uganda’s constitution is clear that a person charged with a criminal offence should be informed immediately of the charges against him. Nicholas is yet to be charged with any offence, and neither have his lawyers been informed about pending charges. However, we are aware of the social media posts by the Uganda Police Force about ongoing investigations on ‘money laundering and [other] related malicious acts.’

Further still, denying Mr. Opiyo and his colleagues access to their lawyers and family is a gross violation of their constitutional rights to liberty, security of person and human dignity. Any charges brought under the Anti-Money Laundering Act are subject to human rights standards regarding arrest, detention, and the right to a fair, speedy, and public hearing before an independent and impartial court of law. We protest Mr. Opiyo’s innocence and implore the State to adduce evidence to support the baseless allegations made against Nicholas and his four colleagues. Despite the circumstances, we have faith that the justice system will uphold their fundamental rights.

Activists and the legal fraternity have expressed alarm at the complete disregard of the rule of law and the flagrant violation of the rights of Mr. Nicholas Opiyo. We further note with concern that security personnel continue to disregard established human rights standards and weaponize laws such as the anti-money laundering law to target, harass, intimidate, and persecute human rights defenders and civil society groups ahead of the upcoming 2021 General Elections. They do this while concealing individual culpability under the veil of institutional actions with the hope of escaping liability.

“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. 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.” said Angelo Izama, a Board Member of Chapter Four Uganda.

We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Nicholas Opiyo, Anthony Odur, Peter Simon Esomu, Herbert Dasaki, and Tenywa Hamid. In the absence of this, we urge the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions to produce them in a court of law before the expiry of the 48 hours tomorrow. We further call upon the State to ensure that the due process and fair trial rights of Nicholas Opiyo, Anthony Odur, Peter Simon Esomu, Herbert Dasaki, and Tenywa Hamid are fully respected.

For more information, contact:

  • Stephen Tumwesigye, Lawyer and Chapter Four Board Member: +256 774 334 908 Email: info@chapterfouruganda.org
  • Drabo Lillian Amari, Lawyer +256 752 992 540
  • Clare Byarugaba, Equality and Non-Discrimination Coordinator, Chapter Four Uganda +256 774 068 663