Politically Motivated: Rwandan Judge Jails US Professor

Written by Ann Garrison. Posted in News, Politics

Published on June 07, 2010 with 6 Comments

Peter Erlinder speaking on 22 May 2010 in Brussels from ICTR Legacy on Vimeo.

By Ann Garrison

June 7, 2010

Minnesota Law Professor and international criminal lawyer Peter Erlinder is back in jail in Kigali, Rwanda, where he was arrested May 28th. A Rwandan judge denied him bail on Monday afternoon.

Erlinder’s friends, family, and supporters had awaited the decision all weekend. Some responded in shock; others called the ruling predictable because Erlinder’s critique of the received history of the Rwanda Genocide, the Congo War, and U.S. and U.K. involvement, threatens too many powerful people.

The Minnesota law professor traveled to Rwanda to defend embattled presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza against what he called trumped up charges, including “genocide ideology,” a speech crime unique to Rwanda which he is now accused of as well.

Just before flying there, Erlinder spoke about what he considered distortions in the received history of the 1994 Rwanda Genocide and its aftermath, at the Second International Criminal Defense Lawyers’ Conference in Brussels, Belgium.

The Rwandan News Agency reported the judge’s ruling on Monday afternoon in Kigali. Judge Morris Mbishibishi, who handed down the ruling, is the same Gasabo Intermediate Court judge who, on Friday, postponed ruling until today.

FDU-Inkingi Party

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, presidential candidate of Rwanda’s FDU-Inkingi Party, whom Peter Erlnder flew to Rwanda to defend against charges he is now facing himself. She has been warned that she will be arrested again if she continues to speak to the press.

KPFA Radio News reported on the case, and the pending decision on Sunday, June 6th.

The U.S. State Department has called for Erlinder’s release on humanitarian grounds, but not because he has a right to freedom of speech, as Professor Erlinder and his lawyers have insisted. Freedom of speech is a right guaranteed to Commonwealth countries, and Rwanda became a member of the Commonwealth in November 2009.

Erlinder is also a U.S. citizen in a nation, Rwanda, supported with hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S.assistance annually. Many of his supporters have thus argued that the U.S. State Department could and should, as a donor nation, insist on his release. Others have said that the State Department is not likely to want to see Professor Erlinder released because, if he is, he will most likely continue to criticize its recent history and that of the Pentagon in Rwanda.

Erlinder’s American lawyer Kurt Kerns said, “We lost and obviously we’re gravely disappointed. We’re working on the best appeal we can right now.”

Erlinder’s defense team includes two Kenyan lawyers, and one Rwandan.

Erlinder will be eligible to appeal in five days according to Rwanda News Agency.

Ann Garrison

Ann Garrison also writes for the San Francisco Bay View, National Black Newspaper and Global Research, reports for Pacifica stations KPFA, WBAI, and KMEC, and maintains a Youtube Channel, AnnieGetYourGang, and her own website, anngarrison.com. She is working on a book titled "Sodomy and Hypocrisy: American Evangelicals, LGBT Persecution, War Crimes and Sexual Atrocities in East/Central Africa." She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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  • therisingcontinent

    ‘Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal,’ Martin Luther King Jr.

    Surprisingly, Peter Erlinder condemnation is unjustifiable if the narrative of bad and good guys during the RPF war of liberation and 1994 genocide is taken out of the equation. But the way the Rwandan prosecutor and his judges handle the accused’s case, it is like what is now happening to the professor is fully justifiable and well deserved. Every government instrument around, without any allowed dissent voice, from the foreign affairs department to all the media in the country, are practically inviting everyone, Rwandans and others, not to see any wrong doing from the Rwandan authorities who are crashing down any critic or undesirable citizens and foreigners as long as they are viewed as criminals with regard to Kagame’s wall of laws. These practices are thoroughly similar to those of Hitler’s period when Jews where killed in millions while Goebbels’ propaganda machine explained and stressed to the public the reasons why it should legally be so.

  • Aimable

    I am a Rwandan who has been waiting for so long for my country to become democratic, and to guarantee universal fundamental human rights for all Rwandan citizens and visitors to Rwanda. Today, I am sad, I am angry, and once again I am ashamed to be Rwandan.

    The extremist Tutsis in power in Rwanda today have blood on their hands. They have killed so many innocent civilians in Rwanda and neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo since October 1990 until today. Now, they are using the sham of a kangaroo court to silence Prof. Erlinder, a defense lawyer, because he has documented their conspiracy on his Rwanda Documents Project web site. The idea that you can jail a defense lawyer simply because he is a good defense lawyer is diabolical in nature.

    The fact that the US government is silently letting one of its citizens rot in the a Rwandan hell is unconscionable

    Thank you Fog City Journal and Ann Garrison for shining a light on this sorrowful event! In my sadness at least I know there are some people left in this world who are not afraid to show this injustice committed by both the Kagame extremist government and the US government.

  • Angela

    The most interesting lesson in all this is how the US government has reacted to this evil act by one of the countries that are supposed to be US ‘allies.’ The silence from the US government is deafening. Just saying in passing that they hope he can be freed “on the grounds of compassion” is like throwing a little drop of water on a bush fire.

    Peter Erlinder’s Rwanda Documents Project web site has thousands of official US government documents showing how the Pentagon funded and supported the violence in Rwanda since 1990. While the State Department was apparently blindsided, the Pentagon was busy giving weapons and other support to armed extremist groups that had a big hand in the epic violence that took place in Rwanda.

    Could it be that the US government today intentionally wants this lawyer to die in a Rwandan prison so that an inconvenient voice against the Pentagon’s actions in the mass murders of Rwanda can be made to disappear forever? Could this be extraordinary rendition on steroids?

  • davidpwaggoner

    Peter is an exemplary human being. A former president of the National Lawyers Guild, Peter has been a passionate advocate for human rights and social justice for decades. I had the honor of meeting him at a natioanl convention of the Guild a few years ago. I am saddened by this turn of events. Please call your congressional reps and the Obama administration to demand stronger action for his release.

  • davidpwaggoner

    For more information, please see the National Lawyers Guild’s press release on the matter: http://www.nlg.org/news/press-releases/nlg-demands-immediate-release-of-attorney-peter-erlinder/

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  • Robert B. Livingston

    “The idea that you can jail a defense lawyer simply because he is a good defense lawyer is diabolical in nature.”

    I couldn’t help thinking of jailed defense attorney Lynne Stewart, whose speech was opportunistically stifled when deliberations were being made to try Guantanamo prisoners in New York.

    The assault of the people by the powerful is a piece of the same cloth.

    http://lynnestewart.org/