The Erlinder case

The United States should work harder for Peter Erlinder’s release.

Peter Erlinder, attorney and William Mitchell College of Law professor, has ensured that those accused of the most heinous crimes are represented fairly in court, an essential role in a healthy democracy. Now with the defense attorney jailed in Rwanda on the charge of denying the countryâÄôs 1994 genocide, the United States should grant him the same vigorous protection he has to his clients. Erlinder flew to Rwanda on May 23 to defend presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire âÄî on trial for promoting genocide ideology âÄî in front of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal. Rwandan authorities arrested Erlinder upon his arrival. ErlinderâÄôs imprisonment could very well be political. Ingabire is running against incumbent President Paul Kagame in the upcoming August presidential elections. Kagame was a leader of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a mostly Tutsi force that took power after the 1994 genocide, which left some 800,000 Rwandans dead âÄî most of them were Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Erlinder has provocatively argued that Tutsis, not just Hutus, hold some culpability for the 1994 genocide. On Monday, a Rwandan judge denied ErlinderâÄôs request for bail, despite health concerns. Erlinder, 62, has depression and high blood pressure and has been hospitalized there twice. Now he might sit in a Kigali prison for another month until a hearing. The minimum sentence for his charge is 10 years. Regrettably, U.S. authorities have remained dormant in his defense. The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda has not tried to secure ErlinderâÄôs release; it has only asked Rwandan authorities to give âÄúMr. Erlinder due process under local law in a timely and transparent manner.âÄù On Monday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked for an expedited appeal and said she will contact Rwandan officials. She should back her word with resolute action. ErlinderâÄôs legal case and opinions may be objectionable or wrong, but that is no reason for his imprisonment, nor is it a reason for the United States not to fight hard for his release and by extension fundamental rights of the accused, which Erlinder has protected throughout his career.