The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Carlos Villarreal 415.377.6961 (San
Francisco) or

James Lafferty 323.653.4510 (Los Angeles)

California Lawyers Demand Immediate Release of American Attorney Imprisoned in Rwanda

Attorneys Call On California House Members to Support Resolution For Peter Erlinde


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.

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) works to promote human rights and the rights of ecosystems over property interests. It was founded in 1937 as the first national, racially-integrated bar association in the U.S.

(212) 679-5100