Africa

US welcomes release of lawyer Peter Erlinder in Rwanda

  • 18 June 2010
  • From the section Africa
Peter Erlinder in court in Rwanda on 7 June 2010
Peter Erlinder is the lead defence counsel for top genocide suspects

The United States has welcomed the release by a Rwandan court of Peter Erlinder, an American lawyer who had been detained since May on charges of denying the 1994 genocide.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner said US embassy officials were at the court hearing and immediately shared the news with Mr Erlinder's family.

He was freed on bail on health grounds but the case has not been dropped.

He was detained after travelling to Rwanda to defend an opposition leader.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza is also accused of denying the genocide.

The genocide claimed the lives of about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

'No problem'

Mr Erlinder is the lead defence counsel for top genocide suspects at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania.

He denies the charges.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza had enlisted Peter Erlinder's help

He had been hospitalised several times since being detained on 28 May and had apparently tried to commit suicide while in detention.

One of his lawyers, Ken Ogeto, said Mr Erlinder was free to leave the country but he would be willing to return to Rwanda, if required.

"The prosecution was given the authorisation to proceed with investigations," he said.

"We don't know how they are going to do it but our client is willing to come back any time they need him - absolutely no problem."

Ms Ingabire, an ethnic Hutu, was arrested for allegedly propagating genocide ideology after she called for action to be taken against those responsible for killing Hutus during the 1994 conflict.

The United Democratic Forces (UDF) leader was freed on bail but her passport was seized and she was banned from leaving the capital, Kigali. She could be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison if convicted.

Rwanda's Tutsi-dominated government came to power at the end of the genocide.

It has been accused of harassing the opposition ahead of elections due in August.

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