A Ugandan court has ordered the government to reconsider its decision to suspend the country’s most prominent rights organization, handing the group a lifeline after its operations were forced to a halt last August.
Chapter Four is one of 54 NGOs ordered to suspend activities following presidential elections last year during which opposition leaders were arrested, activists disappeared and several dozen people gunned down.
In a ruling emailed to Chapter Four late Monday, High Court Judge Musa Ssekaana called the decision to indefinitely suspend the organization “irregular”.
The court ordered the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations to hold a hearing on the issue within one month.
The ruling does not automatically allow Chapter Four to resume work but does require the NGO Bureau — part of the internal affairs ministry — to “approach the decision making process with an open mind.”
“Reason and justice and not arbitrariness must inform every exercise of discretion and power,” Ssekaana ruled.
“We welcome the court’s decision and look forward to engaging with the Bureau with a view of resuming our operations as soon as practicable,” Chapter Four said on Twitter on Tuesday.
The organisation was accused of operating with expired permits, failing to file accounts and not registering with the authorities.
Its executive director Nicholas Opiyo is Uganda’s most prominent human rights campaigner and has been repeatedly harassed by security forces.
Shortly before the January 2021 elections — which saw President Yoweri Museveni re-elected to a sixth consecutive term — Opiyo was imprisoned on allegations of money-laundering, sparking global condemnation.
The charges against Opiyo were eventually dropped a month after Chapter Four was ordered to close.
The lawyer — who was awarded a prestigious Sakharov Fellowship in 2016 by the European Parliament — then hurriedly left Uganda to take up a temporary position at Harvard University and has not returned.
When Uganda passed the law regulating non-governmental organisations in 2015, campaigners warned that it would give the authorities sweeping powers to shut down NGOs and jail their members, a claim the government denied.