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International Law

No Bail for Law Prof Imprisoned in Rwanda

Posted Jun 8, 2010 8:17 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A law professor from Minnesota remains in a Rwandan prison after a judge denied his bail request Monday.

Peter Erlinder, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, was in Rwanda to help with the legal defense of an opposition presidential candidate. Erlinder is accused of violating Rwanda’s law that prohibits anyone from denying or minimizing the genocide that took place in the country in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed, mostly ethnic Tutsis.

Judge Maurice Mbishibishi denied Erlinder’s request for bail so he can return to the United States for medical treatment for a heart condition, according to the New York Times and the Associated Press. Mbishibishi said it did not appear that Erlinder was hospitalized as a result of his detention.

Rwandan authorities say Erlinder took dozens of pills in an attempted suicide, but his family denies the suicide allegation.

Erlinder, who is known for taking on unpopular causes, represents Victoire Ingabire, a Hutu who wants to run for president against the incumbent, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. Erlinder admits there was massive violence, but says it’s wrong to blame one side. He represents Ingabire, who is accused of promoting genocidal ideology under the same Rwandan law, before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. In court papers, Erlinder alleged that members of the current government sparked the 1994 violence by shooting down a presidential plane; the government, however, says Hutu extremists did the shooting.

Erlinder plans to appeal the bail ruling. In the meantime, another American lawyer defending a suspect before the tribunal is seeking to withdraw. California lawyer Peter Robinson told the Times he also fears arrest.

Last updated at 10 a.m. to correct the spelling of Tutsis.

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