US lawyer arrested in Rwanda for genocide denial

[JURIST] Rwandan police on Friday arrested American lawyer Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] in Kigali on charges that he denied the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archive]. Erlinder, a defense lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) and president of the ICTR's Association of Defense Lawyers [official websites] (ADAD), was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested [JURIST report] last month on similar charges. International groups including the National Lawyers Guild, the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers [advocacy websites] have called for [press release] Erlinder's release, saying that the charges are politically motivated [AP report]. William Mitchell College of Law, where Erlinder teaches, has expressed concern for his safety [press release], saying they "support his commitment to justice, the rule of law, and public service." Rwandan Public Prosecutor Martin Ngoga said that Erlinder had become an organizer of genocide deniers [AFP report] and that Erlinder had traveled to Rwanda with full knowledge that denial of the genocide is illegal there.

In March, an aid to Ingabire who had been convicted in absentia, pleaded guilty to genocide charges [JURIST report] in exchange for a reduced prison sentence of 17 years. Last month, the Appeals Chamber of the ICTR affirmed the genocide conviction [JURIST report] of popular Rwandan singer-songwriter Simon Bikindi [Trial Watch profile]. The court also reversed the conviction for counts of genocide, murder, and extermination against Rwandan district attorney Simeon Nchamihigo. Earlier in March, Agathe Habyarimana, the widow of assassinated Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana, was arrested [JURIST report] in France on suspicions of complicity in genocide and was later released on bail. In January, the Rwandan government released a report [JURIST report] concluding that the assassination of then-president Juvenal Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide, was the work of Hutu extremists. Also in January, Rwandan lawmakers introduced a bill [JURIST report] to increase the criminal penalty for genocide denial imposed by a 2003 law.

 

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