Minnesota Law Prof Detained in Rwanda Returns Home

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Associated Press

Minnesota Law Prof Detained in Rwanda Returns Home

by
Steve Karnowski

Minnesota lawyer and law professor Peter Erlinder, walks to the luggage area with his wife Masako Usui as a supporter follows, left, at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport upon arriving Tuesday, June 22, 2010, three weeks after he was arrested and jailed in Rwanda, accused of violating Rwandan laws against minimizing the 1994 genocide there. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — A Minnesota law professor who was imprisoned in Rwanda
for challenging the official version of the country's 1994 genocide got
a big hug from his wife and cheers from supporters as he arrived home
Tuesday.

"The stories of my demise were only slightly
exaggerated," Peter Erlinder said after arriving at Minneapolis-St.
Paul International Airport.

The Rwandan authorities released him
on medical grounds late last week, but did not drop their
investigation, and he said at the time that he would return there to
face charges.

Flanked by his wife and daughter, Erlinder credited
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Rep.
Betty McCollum, U.N. officials and a worldwide show of "globalized
people power" for getting him freed.

Erlinder, 62, a professor at
William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, was in Rwanda to help
defend an opposition presidential candidate when he was arrested May
28. He was accused of violating Rwandan laws against minimizing the
country's 1994 genocide, though he has not been formally charged.

The
professor said individual Rwandans he encountered, including his
jailers, were all "wonderful" toward him "in spite of the lies they've
been told about how the genocide happened." That drew a plea from his
wife, Masako Usui, not to stir things up again, which was only
partially successful.

On its surface, Erlinder went on, the
Rwandan capital Kigali looked much improved since his last trip there
in 2004. And he noted many world leaders have said Rwanda has changed
for the better into a more democratic country.

"I made the mistake of believing them," Erlinder said.

Erlinder
said his imprisonment showed Rwanda hasn't changed, and he compared the
authorities in the East African nation to the East German and Soviet
secret police.

"I have seen how it works and they make the Stasi and the KGB look like amateurs," he said.

But Erlinder deferred most questions about his ordeal and his plans until a news conference set for Wednesday.

The
press officer at the Rwandan embassy in Washington, Carol Rugege, was
away from her office and not available for comment, a man answering the
phone at the embassy said Tuesday.

Erlinder already had been
involved with Rwanda through his work as a defense lawyer with the
Tanzania-based International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which was
created by the U.N. Security Council to prosecute those accused of
responsibility for the genocide.

He disputes the generally
accepted version of history, which holds that roughly 800,000 Rwandans,
the vast majority of them ethnic Tutsis, were massacred by extremist
Hutus over 100 days. The mass killing began after President Juvenal
Habyarimana's plane was brought down in April 1994.

Erlinder told
reporters in Nairobi, Kenya, on Sunday he's never denied there was a
genocide against Tutsis in Rwanda, but he contends large numbers of
Hutus were killed too, maybe more Hutus than Tutsis. He also disputes
the view that the slaughter was planned long before Habyarimana's
death. He said the U.S. government has systematically suppressed
evidence of what actually happened, and that documents from the U.S.
and U.N. that recently have been made public, as well as evidence that
has emerged through the tribunal, back him up.

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