Update: Peter Erlinder Released on Medical Bail
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June 16 Press Release: California Lawyers Demand Immediate Release of American Attorney Imprisoned in Rwanda
California lawyers and activists are joining others from around the world calling for the release of Minnesota attorney and law professor Peter Erlinder from the central prison in Kigali, Rwanda. Erlinder was arrested late last month shortly after arriving in Rwanda to join the defense team of Rwandan presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. Professor Erlinder is a well known human rights lawyer and professor of law at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul Minnesota. He has also served as president of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and remains active on the organization's international committee.
NLG chapters in Los Angeles and San Francisco are calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, and other California members of the U.S. House and Senate to publicly support House Resolution 1426 urging the Government of the Republic of Rwanda and President Paul Kagame to immediately release Erlinder from jail and allow him to return to the United States.
"Erlinder's imprisonment and charges are purely political," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the San Francisco Bay Area NLG. "This is an attack on lawyers and the rights of individuals to vigorous representation when they are charged with a crime."
Support for Erlinder is widespread. Paul Rusesabagina, the man who inspired the film Hotel Rwanda, released a statement on his website saying, "Professor Peter Erlinder was doing his job as a lawyer. In a civil society that is not grounds for arrest. If President Kagame considers Rwanda a democracy, he must release Professor Erlinder immediately."
Both the U.S. State Department and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda have called on the Rwandan government to release Erlinder. More pressure is needed, however, as Professor Erlinder will remain in prison during the Rwandan Governments "investigation," which has no mandated deadline for completion.
Professor Erlinder was charged with the crime of "genocide ideology" - essentially a thought crime widely abused by Rwanda to punish opponents of the current government. According to a 2009 Human Rights Watch report: "Largely aimed at the Hutu population, [genocide ideology] offenses permit, among other measures, the government to send away children of any age to rehabilitation centers for up to one year—including for the teasing of classmates—and for parents and teachers to face sentences of 15 to 25 years for the child's conduct. The government has repeatedly accused the Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets, as well as Human Rights Watch, of promoting genocide ideology; accusations these organizations deny."
The National Lawyers Guild is taking a stand on behalf of our friend and member Peter Erlinder. We welcome the introduction of House Resolution 1426 and urge our California Congressional Delegation to support the measure and publicly reiterate the State Department's call for the release of Peter Erlinder.