A Rwandan court denied bail yesterday to a US lawyer arrested ten days ago on charges of genocide denial and threatening state security, despite pleas from his legal team that he be freed on health grounds.
Peter Erlinder, the first foreigner accused under Rwanda’s 2008 genocide ideology law, pleaded not guilty at a hearing last Friday and his four-lawyer team said they will appeal the bail ruling. He faces a minimum sentence of ten years prison.
“We thought he would be released on health conditions (but) he was denied the request for release for bail and the order was that he’d be in custody for 30 days pending further investigations,” Ken Ogeto, one of his lawyers, a Kenyan, told Reuters.
Erlinder came to Rwanda to defend outspoken opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, head of the United Democratic Forces movement. She was arrested under accusations of genocide denial and belonging to a terrorist organisation in April and released on bail.
Erlinder is a law professor in the United States and has acted as lead defence counsel for top genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.
In April he filed a lawsuit in the United States against President Paul Kagame on the behalf of the wives of the former leaders of Rwanda and Burundi, who died in a plane crash on April 1994 triggering a 100-day massacre in Rwanda.
The lawsuit accused Kagame of ordering the shooting down of the plane carrying the two leaders. A Rwandan probe last year pinned the killing on the former Rwandan president’s own troops.
Genocide ideology law
Last week the United States called for Erlinder’s release on compassionate grounds because he had complained of panic attacks and heart problems that required treatment at home.
International and Rwandan rights groups say the country’s anti-genocide legislation is vague and frequently used by the government to silence dissent.
In a statement released within minutes of the end of Monday’s bail hearing, Rwanda denied its genocide laws were political or symbolic and said revisionists who deny genocide would be imprisoned.
“The prosecution of … Erlinder is not a political tactic; it is an act of justice,” said government spokeswoman Louise Mushikiwabo. “Flagrant and orchestrated breaches of our genocide ideology laws will be met with the full force of the law.”