KIGALI - Rwanda will not short-circuit legal procedures to release American lawyer, Prof. Peter Erlinder, despite a request by the United States State Department to release him on compassionate and humanitarian grounds.
Erlinder is charged with denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and minimising it.
He further says that the genocide was not planned and executed and prefers putting the word genocide in inverted commas or prefers to call what happened in Rwanda as “terrible massacres”, “horrific events”, “massive civilian killings”, “civilian-civilian massacres”.
Addressing a press conference yesterday on the arrest of the law professor, Government Spokesperson and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, said that the country will have to take Erlinder through the legal procedures to answer charges levelled against him, but at the same time, consider his health concerns.
“The US Government from the beginning knew that this man had been imprisoned, they have been following the fate of Erlinder.
“They have been in contact with us, asking us to consider on a compassionate humanitarian basis, given the looks of him being probably mentally ill, that we consider those conditions and release him.”
“Our government’s response is that we are sensitive to medical and health conditions, whether it’s for American citizens or others, but we cannot short-circuit the legal process. So we stand advised by mental health professionals on what needs to happen,” Mushikiwabo said.
She said that a joint medical evaluation is being considered by the country’s doctors and any doctor of Erlinder’s choice who will advise the prosecution accordingly before any decisions concerning his release or continue with the trial.
Mushikiwabo who jointly addressed the Press Conference with the Prosecutor General, Martin Ngoga, said that authorities are well aware of his hospitalisation, but his case of Genocide denial is a serious offence punished by law and cannot be rushed through.
“We as a government, are not doctors to know his mental status. We will wait for those responsible for medical processes to confirm this, but the legal processes will continue. Genocide denial is a serious crime in this country,” Mushikiwabo said.
She added that the country will not bow to pressure from anyone to free the American whose Genocide denial charges compromises laws of the land, adding that it will be a lesson to whoever undermines the country’s laws and minimises the Genocide.
On his side, Ngoga said that Erlinder could be from a country where the law against Genocide denial is not applicable, but by stepping on Rwandan soil, he presented himself and automatically risked facing the law.
“They have talked a lot about this law which is similar to the law on Holocaust denial, but we say we have this law and we attach much value to it. So it is up to them to go and prove their doubts in court,” Ngoga said.
He accused Erlinder of intentionally travelling to Rwanda after faking a court date for Victoire Ingabire’s appearance in court, and was aware of his impending arrest, but he wanted to test the government.
“Now he will have to redeem himself in court”.
Ngoga said that Erlinder’s plans to represent Ingabire and his arrest should not be connected, as his is a stand-alone case. He noted the American is aware that he breached the country’s laws but said that due processes will be followed for a transparent legal procedure.
Among other things, Ngoga said, Erlinder has been accorded the right to choose his legal team, had been given medical attention when needed, and US Consular officials have been allowed to closely follow the events.
Ngoga said that Erlinder has continued to display theatrics that have received coverage in the press, including a faked suicide attempt and threatening to undress before prosecutors in a mental fit.
He further said that doctors will continue to follow his condition, but that will not deter legal procedures. He also revealed that all his rights are being observed during detention, dispelling reports that he is detained in squalid conditions.