Uganda on Friday said it suspended the operations of 54 Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), a move that one of the groups described as “political persecution”.
The suspension was ordered for a range of reasons, including non-compliance with regulations which required NGOs and other groups not to be involved in politics.
Steve Okello, the Chairman of the NGOs Board, the state-run body that oversees all charities in the country, told Reuters “we have halted their operations.”
The NGOs affected include charities whose work defending the rights of political activists and people affected by crude oil production project in western Uganda irritated some government officials.
President Yoweri Museveni’s government had for several years been increasing pressure on NGOs, accusing some of them of backing the opposition.
Dickens Kamugisha, Head of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), told Reuters that “this is political persecution. When you do work that they don’t like, you become their enemy number No. 1. We’ll challenge the decision in court.”
AFIEGO had been involved in the promotion of rights of people affected by the crude oil development project. The group and other charities had also been campaigning against the proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, citing its potential impact on the climate.
In December 2020, police detained a government critic and the head of Chapter Four Uganda, one of the NGOs suspended on Friday, on money laundering allegations.
However, the organisation dismissed the accusation, saying the arrest was part of a crackdown on dissent before elections next month.
Museveni, who ruled the East African country since 1986, had long been accused by some Western governments, international pressure groups and local opposition of using security forces to intimidate and harass opponents, critics and rights activists.
The NGO Board said Chapter Four Uganda, and other NGOs which it said it had suspended indefinitely, had failed to file annual returns and audited books of accounts.
Chapter Four is a civil liberties watchdog that has often helped defend leaders and supporters of opposition parties detained on politically related charges.