Rwanda: Jailed US genocide denialist lawyer charged on another count

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A U.S. law professor, jailed upon arrival in Rwanda — where he was to help with the legal defence of an opposition leader charged with promoting genocidal ideology, may be charged with attempted suicide after he swallowed dozens of pills in his prison. Peter Erlinder was first detained in Rwanda for allegedly denying the country’s 1994 genocide.

Rwandan police spokesman Eric Kayiranga told reporters that Mr. Erlinder swallowed 45 to 50 pills in his prison cell on Tuesday night and the attempt may lead courts to charge the professor with attempted suicide.

“He mixed between 45 and 50 tablets in water and took the concoction in an attempted suicide. However, the police managed to intercept and took him [Mr. Erlinder] to hospital before the drugs could take their toll on his body,” Mr. Kayiranga was quoted.

Mr. Erlinder arrived in Rwanda to help with the legal defense of Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader running against Rwanda President Paul Kagame in the forthcoming Aug. 9 elections. However, Ms. Ingabire was charged with promoting genocidal ideology and jailed.

Director of the National Police Hospital, Dr. Daniel Nyamwasa, told reporters that Mr. Erlinder told him he attempted suicide because he was scared of the long sentence he could receive if convicted. He could face up to 25 years in prison, according to lawyers working for his freedom: “He intimated to me that his worry was to go to jail for life,” Nyamwasa said.

Mr. Erlinder is accused of violating Rwanda’s laws against minimizing the genocide in which more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed. He has long been a sharp critic of President Kagame and helped file a lawsuit in Oklahoma in late April, accusing Kagame of ordering the 1994 deaths of Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana, a Hutu, and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, igniting the genocide. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the widows of the former presidents, who were killed when their plane was shot down.

The U.S law professor who allegedly swallowed his prescription antidepressants and cholesterol-reducing medication leads a group of defense lawyers at the U.N.’s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, trying alleged masterminds of the genocide. He was first hospitalized on Monday after falling ill during an interrogation session.

In 1994, majority of ethnic Tutsis were massacred by Hutu extremists in 100 days, and the killings were stopped after Kagame’s mostly Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu-led government.

“We understand that human rights activist schooled in the U.S. Bill of Rights may find this objectionable,but for Rwandans — schooled in the tragedy of the 1994 genocide and who long for peace — Mr. Erlinder’s arrest is an act of justice,” spokeswoman for the Tutsi-led Rwandan government, Louise Mushikiwabo was quoted.

Mr. Erlinder who said he doesn’t deny that a massive violence happened but contends it is inaccurate to blame just one side, has worked on numerous cases involving the death penalty, civil rights, alleged government or police misconduct and defense of political activism. He also has spoken out on behalf of people facing terrorism charges.

The law professor who made a name for himself by taking on controversial cases knew he was taking a risk by going to Rwanda. According to his wife and daughter, he had taken sufficient precautions by contacting the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Kigali and Minnesota’s congressional offices.

However, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. and Rwandan attorneys have had access to him and expect that due process will be accorded by the Rwandans in a timely and transparent manner.

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