Peter Erlinder reportedly attempted suicide in Rwandan jail cell

Categories: International

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Peter Erlinder is accused of denying the Rwandan genocide
The New York Times is reporting that William Mitchell College law professor Peter Erlinder attempted suicide in his Rwandan jail cell, where he is being held for allegedly denying that country's genocide.

Police said they found Erlinder on Wednesday when they went to check on him ahead of another round of interrogation, and said he had tried to overdose on prescription pills. He's recovering at a hospital.

"When we asked him why, he said he wanted to commit suicide," Rwandan police spokesman Eric Kayiranga told the Times. "He knows the charges against him, he knows the weight of the sentence."

Sarah Erlinder, Peter's daughter, told Minnesota Public Radio it's highly unlikely that he attempted suicide, and far more likely that the episode was "an attempt on his life or laying the groundwork to kill him and claim that it was suicide."

Erlinder was arrested on Friday after entering the country to defend Victoire Ingabire, who is accused of having ties to a UN-listed terrorist group that advocates the resumption of the Rwandan genocide that was brought to an end in 1994.

"Mr. Erlinder's unapologetic violation of these laws is self-evident. He has continually engaged in conspiracy theories and denial surrounding the circumstances of the genocide," Rwanda's public prosecutor said, after the arrest.

But the case isn't that simple.

Roughly 800,000 people were killed in the genocide, mostly minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus at the hands of government-backed Hutu death squads. Erlinder, who in 2003 defended one of the men eventually convicted of orchestrating the genocide, has challenged that narrative.

As William Mitchell professor emeritus Kenneth Kirwin, who has known Erlinder for decades, told the Star Tribune, Erlinder doesn't deny the genocide:

"I think he is more concerned with who was more at fault, or more responsible."

But in Rwanda, rewriting the official history is against the law. And if Erlinder is convicted of what Rwandan's call "genocide ideology," he could spend 20 years in prison.

Erlinder had been hospitalized before, after his first interrogation a few days ago.


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