Law professor Peter Erlinder’s summer break continues to suck.
Last week, we told you about the William Mitchell College of Law professor, who traveled to Rwanda to help with the defense of a political leader running against the incumbent president. He was arrested soon after his arrival because of his “genocidal ideology.” He allegedly violated Rwanda’s laws against minimizing the 1994 genocide in which more than 500,000 Rwandans, mainly ethnic Tutsis, were killed.
Erlinder, who previously defended a Hutu during the International Criminal Tribunals in 2003, contends that it’s inaccurate to blame just one side for what happened. That got him locked in the Rwandan slammer, along with the opposition leader he went to Kigali to defend. During interrogations last week, he fell ill, leading to his hospitalization. Erlinder’s wife says he needs his blood pressure medicine. His daughter told us she’s hoping the State Department will intervene.
He pleaded not guilty to the genocide-denial charges during a hearing on Friday, but the Rwandan judge decided today to turn down Erlinder’s bail application.
What are the charges based on? It appears obscure publications don’t just come back to haunt lawyers during Senate confirmation hearings….
They can be a problem in international courts, too. On Friday, Erlinder was officially charged with “denying Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and publishing articles that threaten the country’s security,” according to the Associated Press:
“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,” Erlinder told the court. He suggested it may be a case of misinterpretation or misunderstanding.
If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.
Erlinder’s lawyers asked that bail be granted because of his health — he has blood pressure problems and wants to return home to seek treatment. Rwandan police have made a questionable claim about a different reason for his poor health. From another AP article:
Erlinder was hospitalized last Tuesday. Rwandan police said Erlinder had tried to commit suicide but his family denied this.
The Rwandan judge was not convinced that Erlinder’s failing health has anything to do with his imprisonment. Apparently, he believes Rwandan prisons have a salutary effect:
Peter Erlinder’s lawyers have not shown a link between his sickness and being in detention since his arrest May 28, their main argument for bail, said Judge Maurice Mbishibishi.
The judge said Erlinder can appeal the bail decision in five days time, but his lawyers said they are going to appeal it immediately in Rwanda’s High Court.
Law professors (at least the non-clinical ones) aren’t known for their prowess in the courtroom. We hope Professor Erlinder fares better in the Rwandan court.
Rwandan judge says no bail for US lawyer [Associated Press]