Rwanda Charges American Over Articles
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 5, 2010
KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — A Rwandan judge has charged an American lawyer with denying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and publishing articles that threaten the country’s security, in a case critics see as the latest sign of increasing repression before national elections in August.
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Jim Gehrz/Star Tribune, via Associated Press
Peter Erlinder, a law professor, was providing legal advice to a leading opposition figure when he was arrested May 28.
The lawyer, Peter Erlinder, pleaded not guilty to the charges during a five-hour court hearing late Friday in the capital, Kigali.
“It is the first time I have come to know that my obscure publications back in America were that bad and could amount to genocide denial,” Mr. Erlinder told the court. He suggested that it might be a case of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison. Judge Maurice Mbishibishi said he would decide on Monday whether to grant bail.
Mr. Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., was arrested on May 28. He had been in Rwanda providing legal advice to Victoire Ingabire, a leading opposition figure who planned to challenge President Paul Kagame in the Aug. 9 election.
She has been charged with promoting genocidal ideology, a crime that human rights observers say the government uses as a catch-all to criminalize political opposition.
Mr. Erlinder, who has a reputation for taking on difficult and unpopular defendants, had also helped file a lawsuit in Oklahoma against Mr. Kagame. A past president of the progressive National Lawyers Guild, he leads a group of defense lawyers at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is trying suspects accused of leading the 1994 genocide.
The genocide claimed the lives of more than 500,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The massacres ended when mostly Tutsi rebels led by Mr. Kagame defeated the mostly Hutu militias.
Mr. Erlinder said that Mr. Kagame’s party might dispute his writings, but “not all Rwandans” would.
He said he had ignored warnings from his tribunal colleagues not to travel to Rwanda, where he had spent several days helping Ms. Ingabire.
“I believed the country has grown democratically, but if I am detained and prosecuted, my case will confirm what is being said out there,” Mr. Erlinder said.
Appearing weak in court, he asked to be granted bail so he could return home for treatment, and he promised to comply with any conditions the court sets. He said he had not been mistreated but had not had contact with anyone while in Rwandan custody.
“I haven’t talked to anyone in my family, I haven’t listened to the radio or watched TV since I was arrested,” he said. “I haven’t talked to my doctor.”
The prosecutor, Richard Muhumuza, argued against granting bail while the investigation continued but agreed not to object if a medical examination determined that Mr. Erlinder needed treatment in the United States.
The authorities are considering a joint medical evaluation involving a doctor of Mr. Erlinder’s choice, Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said. A request made by the United States for Mr. Erlinder’s release on compassionate and humanitarian grounds has been rejected.
Mr. Erlinder was hospitalized Tuesday after the police said he took dozens of pills in a suicide attempt. Mr. Erlinder’s family said they did not believe that.
Ms. Ingabire was also in court Friday. After returning to Rwanda in January from abroad, she had visited a memorial to Tutsis killed in the 1994 genocide and asked why Hutus who died were not also remembered. She was arrested and freed on bail, but her passport was seized. If convicted, she could be sentenced to more than two decades in prison.
A version of this article appeared in print on June 6, 2010, on page A14 of the New York editio
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