US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] on Wednesday attempted to commit suicide while being held in a Rwandan prison on charges of genocide denial, according to police. Erlinder was reportedly found semiconscious [New Times report] in his cell Wednesday morning as police attempted to summon him for further questioning. According to Dr. Daniel Nyamaswa, the Director of the National Police Hospital at Kacyiru [official website] where Erlinder was initially hospitalized, Erlinder took up to 50 pills of prescription medications intended to treat depression and high blood pressure. In a message sent from Erlinder to his family, he explained that he took the overdose in order to be transferred to a hospital to escape the poor conditions of his holding cell [AP report], which he shares with several others. According to police officials, Erlinder confirmed that the overdose was a suicide attempt made because of the sentence he could face if convicted of genocide denial, which could be as long as 25 years, effectively a life sentence for the 62-year-old lawyer. Authorities have stated that they will wait until he has recovered [allAfrica report] before deciding if they will charge him with attempted suicide, a criminal offense in Rwanda. Erlinder has stated his willingness to retract his statements and never return to Rwanda, medical personnel treating him have reported. The faculty at William Mitchell College of Law [academic website], where he is a professor, have disputed the claim [AFP report] that Erlinder attempted suicide, stating that he would never have taken such an action.
Rwandan police on Friday arrested Erlinder [JURIST report] 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 Erlinder's release [press release], saying that the charges are politically motivated [AP report]. The William Mitchell College of Law 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.