Police detain Ugandan human rights lawyer ahead of vote

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Police said they had detained a prominent Ugandan human rights lawyer and government critic over money laundering allegations, in what his organisation said was part of a crackdown on dissent ahead of elections next month.

Nicholas Opiyo heads Chapter Four Uganda, a civil liberties watchdog that has often helped defend leaders and supporters of opposition parties detained on politically related charges.

“We would like to confirm the arrest of Lawyer Nicholas Opiyo ... on allegations of money laundering and related malicious acts,” the police force said on its Facebook page late on Tuesday.

Chapter Four Uganda condemned what it called the “abduction and incommunicado detention” of its leader and said it was concerned about his safety and well-being.

It was not immediately possible to contact Opiyo or any lawyer representing him.

Opiyo’s arrest on Tuesday by security officials “sends a chilling message about their disregard for basic rights,” Otsieno Namwaya, the senior researcher for Africa at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said.

Voters are due to head to the polls on Jan. 14 to elect a new president and lawmakers.

Yoweri Museveni, 76, who has ruled the east African country since 1986, is facing off against Robert Kyagulanyi, a pop star turned lawmaker known as Bobi Wine.

Last month, at least 54 people were killed as military and police personnel battled to suppress a large demonstration to demand the release of Kyagulanyi after he was briefly detained over alleged violations of anti-coronavirus measures.

Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Omar Mohammed and Andrew Heavens