Very Disturbing News

Yesterday morning I was paging through the very slim first section of The Daily Hampshire Gazette, our local newspaper, when I came across a small news item that stopped me cold. It stated that, Peter Erlinder, a constitutional law professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, had been jailed for denying the Rwandan genocide (his real crime was representing an opposition leader), and that the Rwandan police had brought him to the hospital claiming that he had tried to commit suicide.

I’ve known Peter for quite some time. He hosted an RFC reception in the 1990’s and more recently brought me to speak at his law school. I’ve stayed overnight as a guest in his home when I’ve been in town. He is a dedicated human rights advocate and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Guild released the following statement on May 28th shortly after his initial arrest:

“Professor Erlinder has been acting in the best tradition of the legal profession and has been a vigorous advocate in his representation of [his client]. There can be no justice for anyone if the state can silence lawyers for defendants whom it dislikes and a government that seeks to prevent lawyers from being vigorous advocates for their clients cannot be trusted. The entire National Lawyers Guild is honored by his membership and his courageous advocacy,” said David Gespass, the Guild’s president.

Black Star News [http://blackstarnews.com/news/122/ARTICLE/6585/2010-06-02.html] reported that “Paul Rusesabagina, whose life story was the basis for the movie Hotel Rwanda, and President and Founder of Hotel Rwanda Rusesabagina Foundation, said on Wednesday, ‘This morning it was reported that Peter Erlinder tried to commit suicide. According to his family and all past behavior this is inconceivable. …. . Professor Peter Erlinder was in Rwanda doing his job as a lawyer. In a civil society, that is not grounds for arrest. If President Kagame considers Rwanda a democracy that adheres to the rule of law, he must release Professor Erlinder immediately. The way for President Kagame to show that there is hope for real justice and human rights in Rwanda is to release Professor Erlinder.'”

I join the call for Peter’s immediate release and I hope the entire RFC community will as well. For ongoing information visit the National Lawyer’s Guild’s website http://www.nlg.org and click on the “Recent News” link.  Information, updates, and statements of support are also available on the William Mitchell College of Law website here.

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