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Rwanda: Release Peter Erlinder now

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Peter Erlinder (May 7, 2010, Washington, D.C.)

Three weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting up again with Peter Erlinder (whom I first wrote about here), this time at one of the talks he was involved in organizing for the Japan Communist Party. I briefly videoed Peter here.

When I mentioned that I had let my national membership in the National Lawyers Guild lapse while continuing my local membership -— due to my sharp differences with the national leadership —- Peter pointed out that one thing he likes about the Guild is that among Guild members, he does not need to explain himself. On an individual basis, I tend to warm to Guild members much more than the exasperating policies and statements some of them make and support as a group, including the leadership’s supporting shoe throwing, the organization’s refusal to take a comprehensive stance against violence, and the organization’s repeated knee-jerk statements and policies against Israel without condemning violence from Hamas and elsewhere among Palestinians.

During law school, had I known more Guild folks like Peter Erlinder and Mark Goldstone, law school would have been a more pleasant place where I could have kept things in better perspective rather than dwelling on how inhuman and cold too much of the experience felt in terms of caselaw and statutes, many law students, and many law professors and administration members.

Last week, Peter got arrested upon his arrival in Rwanda , where he traveled to assist one or more clients charged with genocide there. Rwanda criminalizes genocide denial, which may or may not have been influenced by other nations that criminalize denial of Hitler’s holocaust. Certainly, such a law would not pass Constitutional/First Amendment muster in the United States. Outside of the United States, it is dangerous and bizarre for governments to arrest and otherwise suppress lawyers for advocating their criminal defense clients’ positions, which is what is happening with Peter’s arrest and continued detention.

Had the Rwandan government merely refused Peter entry to the country and kicked him out, that would have been bad enough. However, his arrest and continued detention are even more unjustified.

Here is the National Lawyer’s Guild’s press release on the scandalous ongoing detention of Peter Erlinder.

Human Rights First links to an article asserting that Rwanda’s president is a genocidaire whose government is repressing Peter Erlinder as elections approach.

Here is the Rwandan government’s unfortunate statement on the matter.

Editorializing that “Mr. Erlinder’s views seem foolish, offensive, and ultimately unhelpful to the cause of liberty he claims to champion,” the Wall Street Journal excellently points out that “therein lies the test of the free society: Tolerance of the foolish, the offensive, and even the unhelpful.”

Here is an interview of Peter shortly before his departure to Rwanda.


It appears that Peter will appear before a magistrate as early as Monday, May 31. The Break the Chains blog provides contact information for pressuring the release of Peter Erlinder.

Jon Katz – Criminal defense and DWI defense lawyer practicing in Fairfax County, Virginia, Montgomery County, Maryland and beyond. Call 703-383-1100 for a confidential consultation

ADDENDUM: Peter was hospitalized for high blood pressure after his hours-long interrogation. His magistrate’s hearing did not take place on Monday, May 31.