Rwanda: No bail for Peter Erlinder, Ingabire may hire another lawyer
Kigali: Peter Erlinder, the American lawyer arrested in Rwanda on Genocide denial charges, was handcuffed by police as the judge remanded him to 30 days of detention to allow for continued investigations and subsequent trial.
The accused has five days to appeal the decision but his client, presidential hopeful Victoire Ingabire, may enlist the services of somebody else.
Ingabire had hired Erlinder to defend her against Rwanda’s criminal charges of Genocide ideology, minimizing the Genocide, divisionism, and collaboration with a terrorist group. Erlinder is lead defence counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda (ICTR), and in April he filed suit in America’s state of Oklahoma against President Paul Kagame for allegedly shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane, igniting Rwanda’s genocide.
Erlinder arrived in Kigali on May 24 and was arrested by Rwandan police on May 28, charged with genocide denial.
“On our part, we thought on medical grounds at least he would be released, at least on some conditions,” said Kenyan defence lawyer Gershom Otachi.
Ten days of arrest have proved detrimental to Erlinder’s physical well-being. He visited hospital twice, first because of high blood pressure and second for what police say was a suicide attempt. In court on Friday, Erlinder’s lawyers asked for him to be released so he could get adequate treatment.
Judge Maurice Mbishibishi, who is also handling Ingabire’s case, took the weekend to deliberate and gave the verdict Monday during sunset at Gasabo Intermediate Court, surrounded by maize fields 25 kilometres outside of Kigali. Mbishibishi sided with the prosecution, which had asked for Erlinder to remain detained.
The judge said that Erlinder’s lawyers have not shown a link between his sickness and being in detention, their main argument for bail.
Gaunt and unshaved, Erlinder received the news with his hand over his eyes. Police came, handcuffed him, and escorted him back to a cell.
Erlinder was represented by four lawyers including American Kurt Kerns, two Kenyans and a Rwandan. In addition, the Rwanda Bar had lined up five lawyers to advise the defense team.
“We’ll try to appeal, maybe,” lawyer Otachi said. “At this stage, I really cannot tell.”
Outspoken opposition critic Victoire Ingabire, whom Erlinder hasn’t had the chance to defend since arriving, was not surprised.
“The justice in Rwanda is not independent,” she said. “I am really worrying if the U.S. government will not do anything, that Peter (Erlinder) can stay in jail in Rwanda. But he’s innocent and everybody knows that he’s innocent.”
These sentiments also describe how Ingabire feels about her own charges. She’s stalled waiting for Erlinder to represent her, but that may not last.
“I am thinking to take another lawyer,” she said. “I will see who can take the place of Peter. But first I would like to see what will happen to Peter.”
The American’s lawyers say they are going to appeal the bail decision in Rwanda’s High Court.