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KAMPALA - Uganda said on Friday it had 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.
"We have halted their operations," Steve Okello, the chairman of the NGO Board, the state-run body that overseas all charities in the country, told Reuters.
The NGOs affected include charities whose work defending the rights of political activists and people affected by a crude oil production project in western Uganda has irritated some government officials.
President Yoweri Museveni's government has for several years been increasing pressure on NGOs, accusing some of them of backing the opposition.
"This is political persecution. When you do work that they don't like you become their enemy number No. 1. We'll challenge their decision in court," Dickens Kamugisha, head of Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), told Reuters.
AFIEGO has been involved in the promotion of rights of people affected by the crude oil development project. It and other charities have also been campaigning against the proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, citing its potential impact on the climate.
Last December, police detained a government critic and the head of Chapter Four Uganda, one of the NGOs suspended on Friday, on money laundering allegations.
The organisation dismissed the accusations, saying the arrest was part of a crackdown on dissent before elections next month.
Museveni, who has ruled the east African country since 1986, has 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. REUTERS