Uganda Govt drops money laundering charges off human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo

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Govt drops money laundering charges off human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo. Whisper Eye News

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The Ugandan government yesterday dropped money-laundering charges against the country’s most prominent human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo, ending a saga that triggered a global outcry even as concern grows over the country’s crackdown on civil society.

The arrest last December of Nicholas Opiyo, an internationally recognised human rights campaigner and outspoken government critic, was widely seen as a politically motivated move and sparked global condemnation, with US and EU diplomats attending his court hearings.

Police had originally charged him with money laundering in connection with a donation of $340,000 (288,000 euros) from a US charity to Chapter Four, a prominent legal organization headed by Opiyo that specializes in defending civil society groups.

But in a letter dated September 10, 2021 Jane Abodo, Uganda’s top prosecutor, informed a judge that she had “decided to discontinue proceedings against” Opiyo, prompting principal magistrate Moses Mabende to order an end to the trial on Monday.

Opiyo’s arrest came just weeks before the country held a bitterly disputed and violent election.

Following his arrest, Opiyo who has been awarded several prestigious human rights prizes spent Christmas in detention at a high security prison before being released on bail a week later.

After months of hearings during which government lawyers failed to produce any evidence to support the allegations, a High Court judge on Friday ordered the prosecution to show proof within a week or drop the charges.

A group of 14 major international donors, including the European Union and the United States, protested against his arrest while a panel of 11 top human rights experts at the United Nations dismissed the charges as “fictitious”.

The country’s most well-known rights group, Chapter Four was one of 54 non-profits ordered to suspend operations last month, for allegedly failing to follow appropriate legislation, including operating with expired permits, not filing accounts or not registering with the authorities.

Opiyo denied any unlawful conduct by his group and told this media that the suspension reflected a “wider crackdown” on civil society.


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