KAMPALA — Justice Musa Ssekaana of High Court in Kampala has on Wednesday, December 1, asked lawyers involved in the case in which Ugandan government indefinitely suspended Chapter Four’s license, to file written submissions in which he will base on to give his ruling.
Government in August this year suspended the operations of 54 non-governmental organisations, a move that one of the groups described as “political persecution”.
The suspensions were ordered for a range of reasons, including non-compliance with regulations which require NGOs and other groups not to be involved in politics.
Chapter Four is a civil liberties watchdog that has often helped defend leaders and supporters of opposition parties detained on politically related charges
Justice Ssekaana issued the directives after a brief court session on Wednesday with the lawyers of Chapter Four led by Mr. David Mpanga and Mr. Francis Gimara.
The National Bureau for Non-Government Organisations, the sole respondent was represented by senior state attorneys from the chambers.
In the directives issued by Justice Ssekaana, Chapter Four has upto Monday next week to file its written submissions while the Attorney General to reply on behalf of NGO Bureau has been given upto December 20.
Both parties will return to Court on January 11 to assess the progress before Justice Ssekaana gives a ruling date on the matter.
“Today, court has given us directions, on how the case is going to proceed, the issues have been outlined, to determine essentially whether the decision by the NGO Bureau was lawful and also to determine what remedies if the decision was unlawful,” Counsel Mpanga told reporters.
He added: “We are going to proceed by written submissions and we will file our submissions by December 6, the Attorney General representing the NGO Bureau, have a upto December 20th, to file their reply, we have been directed to file our rejoinder to the reply if any, by December 22 so that on January 11, the court will hear us again to determine whether everything is as planned and let us know about the judgment date.”
In December 2020, the executive director of human rights group Chapter Four, Nicholas Opio, was arrested on allegations of money laundering.
At the time, the organization was reportedly collecting evidence surrounding the killings and arrests that occurred during two days of protests in Uganda that began on November 18.
This was not the first time the government has targeted NGOs.
In February 2021, several NGOs were forced to either close or scale down activities after the government ordered the suspension of the International NGO Democratic Governance Facility.
Eight development partners formed the DGF in 2011 to provide well-coordinated support to state and non-state entities in order to strengthen pro-democracy campaigns and protect human rights.
In suspending the DGF, President Museveni said that the fund was exclusively foreign managed, and that its activities were calculated to subvert the government.
In an affidavit of Ms Zahara Nampewo, the chairperson of Chapter Four and Mr. Peter Magelah, a lawyer working with the same organisation, contended that the NGO Bureau suspended its activities to enable comprehensive investigations into its operations.
The petitioners state in their affidavit that the NGO Bureau copied the said letter to various entities including their bank Absa, Financial Intelligence Authority, ordering them to halt operations with Chapter Four.
According to Chapter Four, the actions of the NGO Bureau are without factual basis on grounds that prior to the closure, they were filing their annual returns with the latest being in January and that they were fully compliant with the law.
Some of the organisations that were affected by NGO Bureau decision, had been involved in an observation operation during the disputed presidential election in January that saw President Museveni returned for another five-year term in office.
But in his defence, Mr Stephen Okello, the executive director of NGO Bureau, accuses Chapter Four of having failed to file annual returns for 2020, hence his move to suspend its activities.