American lawyer Peter Erlinder “unconditionally released” from Rwandan jail
Kigali – American lawyer and accused Tutsi Genocide denier Peter Erlinder was released on bail from detention in Kigali on Thursday for health reasons, though he has yet to be released from hospital.
Erlinder was arrested 20 days ago in Kigali, accused of denying the 1994 Tutsi Genocide. He was denied bail in intermediate court last Monday. He appealed in high court on Monday, and the verdict was pronounced in an hour-long ruling ending around 5 p.m. this Thusday afternoon.
“It is ordered that Professor Carl Peter Erlinder be hereby unconditionally released from detention on health grounds as explained above,” said Judge Johnson Busingye. “It is ordered further that investigations into his case will proceed while he is not in detention.”
The decision overturned the intermediate court ruling to keep Erlinder in detention for 30 days while the prosecution built a case against him.
Erlinder and his lawyers argued on Monday that the lower court ruling didn’t take into account Erlinder’s medical conditions. They presented three doctors’ testimonies, signed by United States secretary of state Hillary Clinton, to back up their claim.
Erlinder himself gave testimony of his three visits to hospital, first for high blood pressure, second for attempted suicide caused by depression, and third for cotton stuck in his ears.
The prosecution argued that Erlinder’s medical records were inconsistent and incredible, and they said Erlinder would tamper with witnesses and evidence should he be released.
The day after the hearing, Erlinder was admitted to hospital a fourth time, for very high blood pressure. According to his lawyer Ken Ogetto, his doctor said he was unfit to attend and the prison guards tending to him decided to keep him in hospital.
On the issue of medical conditions, the judge sided firmly with Erlinder.
“No matter how great the accusations, his physical and mental health must take precedence over the case against him,” he said. “One reason is that it would be unjust to put his life at risk of morbidity or mortality as suggested by his doctors.”
Erlinder can now return to America for medical treatment, though he is ordered to cooperate with the prosecution for the genocide denial case ahead.
It seems the decision is exactly what Erlinder’s lawyers were aiming for.
“I am happy with it. I don’t know about my client, whether he is happy with it, but I imagine he will be,” said Kenyan lawyer Otachi Gershom.
Prosecutor Jean Bosco Mutangana held his head in his hands during the ruling, and he refused to comment.
The date of Erlinder’s actual trial is still uncertain, and his client, presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire, is unsure of whether and how soon Erlinder can defend her in court.
“I hope that he can go on as my lawyer,” she said. “I hope that soon my case he will also fight in the court and that we can work together”