A leading human rights lawyer in Uganda, who was arrested last week and charged with money laundering, was released on bail on Wednesday, local media reported.

On Dec. 22, Nicholas Opiyo was besieged along with three other lawyers and a human rights activist 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.

According to New Vision local website, Opiyo has been accused by the country of receiving $340,000 in his bank account “from foreign sources knowing that they were proceeds of crime,”

Today, Uganda’s High Court Judge Jane Okuo Kajuga ordered Opiyo to surrender his passport to the registrar of the Anti-Corruption Division, and granted him bail.

Chapter Four Uganda, a rights group founded by Opiyo, said the arrest was part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of next month’s elections in the landlocked East African country.

In a tweet on Wednesday, the US Embassy in Uganda welcomed Opiyo’s release on bail.

“Civil society actors and human rights defenders play a vital role in educating the citizenry and must be allowed to carry out their work free from harassment. There will be consequences for those who undermine democracy,” the embassy said.

The detention and accusations against Opiyo came at a time when several organizations, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 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.


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