WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday called on the Rwandan
government to release a jailed U.S. law professor. Peter Erlinder has
been in custody since Friday on charges he denied the central African
country's 1994 genocide.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley
told reporters on Thursday that U.S. officials were closely monitoring
Erlinder's situation and have been in touch with officials in Rwanda.
want to be sure that he is accorded all of his rights," Crowley said.
"We are pressing the Rwandan government to resolve this case quickly
and would like to see him released on compassionate grounds."
of St. Paul, Minn., was moved from a jail in Rwanda's capital city,
Kigali, to a hospital on Wednesday after what Rwandan officials said
was an apparent suicide attempt.
However, the 62-year-old told
consular officials that he took an overdose of his own prescription
medication so that he would be sent from a squalid jail to a hospital.
That message was conveyed from the consulate in Rwanda to his family,
who said Thursday they understood his actions to be part of an effort
to escape a jail cell where he feared for his safety and was staying
with seven or eight other inmates.
"It was a strategy for him to
get out of that jail," said Gena Berglund, a legal assistant to
Erlinder. "He told the consulate, 'I couldn't spend one more night in
Erlinder's family traveled to Washington on Thursday to
press for his release. They spoke with reporters on Thursday morning
and were expected to meet with State Department officials later in the
Sarah Erlinder, Peter Erlinder's daughter, said she was
elated the State Department had called for her father's release. She
and other family members said earlier Thursday they thought a public
call for his release would spur action from Rwanda, which is closely
allied with the U.S. government and receives millions of dollars in aid.
the best news I've heard in a long time," she said. "It's been such a
roller coaster, good news and bad news coming at the same time."
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members, including Erlinder's wife, Masako Usui, said they want him
released as soon as possible because they fear for his health.
"I don't know anything about his condition," Usui said, noting he was on various medications.
is a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul with a
reputation for taking on difficult, often unpopular defendants and
causes. A past president of the progressive National Lawyers Guild, he
leads a group of defense lawyers at the U.N.'s International Criminal
Tribunal for Rwanda. The tribunal is trying the alleged leaders of the
The Rwandan government has accused him of
violating the country's laws which forbid minimizing the 1994 genocide
in which more than 500,000 Rwandans, the vast majority of them ethnic
Tutsis, were massacred by Hutus in 100 days. Erlinder has not contended
that massive violence did not occur, but has said it's inaccurate to
blame just one side.
Erlinder was in Kigali to help with the
legal defense of Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader running
against President Paul Kagame in Aug. 9 elections. Ingabire is accused
of promoting genocidal ideology.
In late April, Erlinder helped
file a lawsuit in Oklahoma that accused Rwanda's current President,
Paul Kagame, of ordering the 1994 deaths of Rwandan President Juvenal
Habyarimana, a Hutu, and Burundi President Cyprien Ntaryamira, igniting
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the widows of the two presidents. The presidents were killed when their plane was shot down.
has made the allegations before, citing tribunal documents and books by
former tribunal prosecutors. Kagame's government denies the accusations.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.