Police in Bundibugyo District are investigating a murder case in which the district National Resistance Movement (NRM) Registrar was allegedly killed and his body dumped.
Robert Kifunga Aguma, 43, was on Saturday morning found dead along Gabata cell-Mpumpai cell footpath near Bimala River lying supine and barefoot.
According to Mr. Vincent Twesige the Rwenzori west police spokesperson, the deceased body did not have any injuries, except the tongue protruding but was quick to add that detectives had started investigating the cause of death.
“Today (Saturday) morning at around 9am, we received information from the chairperson of Bimala village that a person had been lying dead near the Bimala River along Gabata cell-Mpumpai cell footpath via Kudos guest house,” Mr Twesige said.
The Bundibugyo district NRM electoral boss, Ms Jane Alisemera, said Aguma’s death is not only a big loss to the district but the entire NRM fraternity.
“It’s very sad to lose such a young brilliant leader. Counsel Kifunga has been a good leader in our party and has contributed much to the NRM leadership countrywide. We are waiting for a post-mortem report to establish the exact cause of his death,” she said.
Kampala district woman Member of Parliament Shamim Malende and NUP senior Lawyer has today morning survived assassination after attack unknown assailants on Masaka Road.
Through her Facebook page, Mrs. Malende disclosed that she was today morning attacked by unknown men while on her way to Masaka court for a bail application hearing for detained MPs Mohamed Ssegirinya and Allan Ssewanyana.
“I have been attacked by unknown people on my way to Masaka court for the bail application of Hon Ssegirinya and hon Allan Ssewanyana and my car tyres deflated,” She said.
Malende who’s is a staunch member of Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) is among the legislators’ lawyers presenting them during their murder case.
Her attack comes just two days after another NUP member and Mukono Municipality Member of Parliament Betty Nambooze Bakireke was attacked by assailants at her home.
The State on Monday dropped the money laundering charges that had been slapped against a top human rights lawyer, ending a nine-month legal battle against him.
The dropping of the charges against Mr Nicholas Opiyo, came days after Anti-Corruption judge, Lawrence Gidudu, gave the State a seven-day ultimatum to either conclude the investigations and commit him to the High Court for trial or have the case terminated for delayed prosecution.
“This is to inform the court that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), has decided to discontinue proceedings against Opiyo Nicholas charged with money laundering contrary to section 3 (c), 116, and 136 (1) of the Anti-Money Laundering Act as amended,” reads in part the withdrawal notice signed off by DPP Jane Frances Abodo.
To that effect, the presiding magistrate, Moses Nabende, discontinued the said charges against Mr Opiyo and freed him.
The magistrate further ordered the State to refund Shs15m which Mr Opiyo had deposited as one of the conditions for his release earlier this year.
Mr Opiyo, the Executive Director of Chapter Four Uganda, was arrested in December last year and subsequently, charged with money laundering.
The prosecution had alleged that Mr Opiyo on October 8, 2020, at ABSA Bank Garden City Branch, in Kampala District, acquired $340,000 (about Shs1.2 billion) through ABSA Bank account No.6004078045 in the names of Chapter Four Uganda, knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime.
Kampala – Uganda – as Uganda struggles to strengthen measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, security agencies working for multinational companies and local investors are resorting to the use of criminal charges to criminalize the work of community land rights defenders and farming activities of local communities to fasten land grabs in Uganda.
When Uganda entered into a total COVID-19 lockdown on 31st March 2020, access to justice was constrained as courts remained closed and administrative units of police were inaccessible as well as public transport nonfunctional, which worsened the situations for land grab victims.
Since late last 2020, Uganda has eased the lockdown where some sectors including public transport, public courts, higher institutions of learning, and shopping malls have been allowed to re-open under strict orders to adhere to COVID-19 Standing Operating Procedures.
According to documented figures by Witness Radio – Uganda, lawyers representing project-affected persons, community land rights defenders, and project-affected persons’ leaders have suffered the wrath of the army, police, and private security guards protecting plantations where most victims have been tortured and mistreated while in detention.
In some cases, victims were way-laid while others were kidnapped from their homes by men cladding army uniforms and kept in incommunicado for several days.
A handful of victims have been taken to court while others are on police bond and routinely required to report on their bonds. The commonest criminal charges slapped to land rights defenders and landowners range from criminal trespass, threatening violence, and setting fire on crops.
In the case of Kiryandongo district where several multinational companies are grabbing communities’ land for several agribusinesses, more than 50 people have either been kidnapped or illegally arrested. Some of the victims are lawyers representing land grab victims including, Nafula Elizabeth, Kaijuka Ezron, Tuwayenga Brian, Buryelali Joan, Muhindo Morgan, Koloa Eric, and Marunga Christine.
Kiryandongo, which has several multinationals including Great Seasons SMC Limited, owned by Sudan’s investor based in Dubai, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, owned by an Indian family (RAI Dynasty), and Agilis Partners Limited which is owned by American twin brothers (Benjamin Prinz and Phillip Prinz) experienced a high level of impunity before and during COVID period as affected communities are blocked from opening criminal cases against individual police officers or individual workers of multinational companies.
We continue to demand that the fabricated and malicious charges be dropped
Earlier today, Monday January 11, 2021, Mr. Nicholas Opiyo appeared before the Anti-Corruption Magistrate’s Court for the mention of the case in which he faces trumped-up money laundering charges. The State Attorney representing the Director of Public Prosecutions informed court that the investigations were incomplete and requested for an adjournment. Court adjourned the matter to January 28, 2020.
We find it deeply troubling that the State initiated criminal proceedings against Mr. Opiyo before investigations would reveal any evidence to sustain the said charges.
We maintain that Mr. Opiyo is innocent and the charges against him are frivolous and an abuse of court process.
It should concern every citizen when laws and institutions meant for their protection are instead weaponized for their persecution and punishment. We are aware of many other Ugandans facing similar baseless and politically motivated charges in courts of law. This perversion of justice is a stain on our institutions and risks corrupting the very basis of our social fabric that relies on the courts to determine all disputes impartially. We cannot expect law governed behavior from citizens if the custodians of the law disregard the laws, abuse them or manipulate them for partisan or personal purposes.
To understand Nicholas Opiyo, you need a sense of perspective. You need to understand adversity. Above all, you need an ability to reflect on things that happen to you from a particular point of view. Nicholas Opiyo grew up at the height of the war in northern Uganda. He knows what injustice is. He knows what suffering is. Above all he knows what abuse of power is.
On Tuesday December 22, 2020, while Opiyo and four other human rights lawyers were having lunch at a Kampala restaurant, heavily armed and hooded men surrounded them, handcuffed them and bundled them abduction style into minivans and sped off. They surfaced at Kireka Special Investigations Unit on the outskirts of Kampala.
The regime harassing Opiyo is caught up in its own dilemmas and drama. It has forgotten that what they profess now is based on their point of view. The narrative they are pushing is that foreign powers are working through certain political leaders and prominent government officials to ferment instability and eventually overthrow the current government.
We recall the Kale Kayihura saga and the circumstance under which President Museveni took drastic measures to purge the police of “weevils” suspected of serving subversive foreign interests. Museveni insists that the police (and probably other security agencies) are heavily infiltrated and may have elements determined to undermine the Ugandan State. This may explain recent changes in the leadership of the Special Forces Command, the police and the intelligence organisations.
Opiyo may be in the dock now but in a wider sense, the Museveni regime is also in the dock. The money laundering charges aside, Opiyo’s real offence is that Museveni’s hitherto darlings in the power centres of the West are lending the likes of Opiyo a keen listening ear. It may be unsettling to the Uganda government that policies towards Uganda may be defined by the input of people like Opiyo.
A prominent rights attorney jailed in Uganda over criminal charges was freed on bail on Wednesday amid intense pressure from the international community and watchdog groups urging authorities to respect human rights ahead of elections in January.
Nicholas Opiyo had spent a week in prison, charged with money laundering after officials queried a $340,000 transfer into a bank account held by the rights group he leads. His lawyers say he is innocent, and his group, Chapter Four Uganda, calls the charges frivolous.
Opiyo has represented pro-democracy activists, opposition figures and minority groups. He is notably one of a few lawyers known to represent homosexuals in a country where same-sex relations are criminalized.
The U.S. had called for his immediate release. Representatives of foreign embassies sat in the courtroom as his bail application was heard. He appeared via video link from the maximum-security prison.
Critics of the government insist Opiyo is targeted because of his work tracking alleged rights abuses by security forces ahead of elections on Jan. 14.
President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power since 1986, faces a strong challenge from popular singer and lawmaker Bobi Wine, who has rallied impoverished young people.
UN human rights experts* today expressed serious concerns about the violence ahead of Uganda’s presidential election, and urged authorities to put an end to the arrest, detention and judicial harassment of political opponents, civil society leaders and human rights defenders.
Media outlets have reported that three journalists were hurt on Sunday after being hit by tear gas canisters in Masaka. Opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, said one of his bodyguards died after being hit by a military truck later the same day. The military has denied this, saying he fell from a speeding car.
“We are gravely concerned by the election-related violence, the excessive use of force by security personnel, as well as the increasing crackdown on peaceful protesters, political and civil society leaders and human rights defenders,” said the experts.
“Since the publication of the guidelines on the conduct of elections during COVID-19 in June by the Uganda Electoral Commission, we have witnessed gradual shrinking of civic space, and misuse and abuse of health-related restrictions to curb dissent in the country ahead of the election on 14 January. Time and again, we have emphasised that the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic should not be used as a pretext to infringe on fundamental freedoms.”
On 23 December 2020, Nicholas Opiyo, a prominent human rights defender, was arrested along with four other individuals. According to the official statement made by the authorities, he is accused of money laundering and will be tried accordingly. Opiyo was involved in the defence of four NGOs whose assets were frozen on 12 December by the government on charges of financing terrorism, and was vocal against actions taken by the State security forces amidst the electoral context. The Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), the National NGO Forum, the Women International Peace Centre, and the Alliance of Finance Election Monitoring (AFEM) have been active in election campaigns encouraging the participation of women and youth.
“Combatting terrorism should never be used as a justification to undermine the credibility of associations or to unduly impede their legitimate work,” the UN experts said. “We are gravely concerned about this attack on human rights defenders, civil society actors and those who defend them. The prosecution of Nicholas Opiyo and other lawyers, as well as the judicial harassment of those who express dissent, appear to be strictly related to the electoral context, and fictitious charges being used to justify them.”
Ugandan officials today extended the pre-trial detention of human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo by scheduling his case in the courtroom of a judge without authority to grant him bail.
Opiyo was arrested Dec. 22 on charges of money laundering and was remanded to prison over the Christmas weekend.
He appeared by video today in a Kampala magistrate’s court where the presiding officer had no jurisdiction to receive his plea or grant him release on bail. Currently he is to remain in Kitalya Maximum Security Prison at least until Jan. 11, when a further court hearing is scheduled.
Opiyo’s lawyers have applied for bail in the High Court. A bail hearing there has been set for Dec. 30.
Chapter Four, the human rights advocacy organization that Opiyo leads, stated that US $340,000 that police labeled “proceeds of crime” in their money-laundering charge were simply “a grant from one of Chapter Four’s reputable recurring and long-standing donors who legally support Chapter Four’s work of promoting and protecting human rights.”
Opiyo and Chapter Four are longtime supporters of LGBTQ+ rights in Uganda. Opiyo also represents presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi (Bobi Wine), who seeks to unseat Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in next month’s election.
Numerous human rights organizations have issued statements of support for Opiyo and have called for his release.