International Law

US Law Prof Imprisoned in Rwanda Over His Criminal Defense Work Is Now Hospitalized


A Minnesota lawyer who has repeatedly taken on controversial criminal cases has been interrogated and imprisoned in Rwanda, where he was working to defend a president candidate, Victoire Ingabire, against charges of promoting genocidal ideology.

Peter Erlinder, 62, is now hospitalized, after prison conditions apparently exacerbated preexisting health issues, according to the Star Tribune.

His daughter, Sarah Erlinder, who is a lawyer in Arizona, says his family and friends are very concerned about his safety and frustrated at the lack of help provided by the U.S. Department of State, which reportedly has characterized the situation as a local issue, the newspaper recounts.

“We figure a U.S. attorney arrested while defending his client is not a local issue at all,” says Sarah Erlinder. “It’s illegitimate to hold him on these charges, and we need the U.S. government’s help to get him out.”

Officials say Peter Erlinder was arrested for violating a 2003 law that provides for a prison term of between 10 and 20 years for those convicted of denying genocide, grossly minimizing genocide, trying to justify genocide or destroying evidence concerning genocide, reports Reuters.

His remarks concerning the slaughter of some 800,000 people in a 1994 genocide, while serving as lead defense counsel for a number of top genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, allegedly violated this law, according to the news agency.

Erlinder “said that there was no genocide in Rwanda, that no Tutsis were killed by Hutus,” Eric Kayiranga, a police spokesman, told Reuters.

A Chicago Tribune article provides more details about Erlinder’s background and career. Now a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, he grew up on Chicago’s South Side.

Updated at 7:30 a.m. to include Chicago Tribune coverage.

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