Detained law professor back in Rwandan jail after hospital scare

After a second trip to a Rwandan hospital, Peter Erlinder is back in a jail cell and will be interrogated by police again Friday morning, said one of his attorneys.

U.S. embassy officials told family members Erlinder was taken to the hospital Wednesday after taking extra prescription pills. The Rwandan government has accused Erlinder of trying to commit suicide, which is a crime in that country.

But Erlinder's friend and colleague, Gena Berglund, said Erlinder gave a different explanation to a U.S. embassy official who visited him in the hospital.

"In his own words, he did not want to spend 'one more night in a jail cell.' So the inference I make is (that) he preferred to be in the hospital," Berglund said.

Erlinder's family said he had access to his blood-pressure medication, and possibly a few pills for high cholesterol. On Tuesday, he also requested his wife send him some prescribed sleeping pills.

Rwandan police have accused Erlinder of expressing what are considered illegal views on the country's 1994 genocide. He has said consistently that Rwandan President Paul Kagame helped contribute to the massacres, which killed about 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Erlinder, a defense lawyer for an international tribunal that is trying the alleged perpetrators, traveled to Rwanda last week to defend a presidential candidate from charges of "genocide ideology." The professor at William Mitchell College of Law was detained Friday.

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department is asking the Rwandan government to release Erlinder.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Thursday that U.S. officials were closely monitoring Erlinder's situation and have been in touch with officials in Rwanda.

"We want to be sure that he is accorded all of his rights," Crowley said. "We are pressing the Rwandan government to resolve this case quickly and would like to see him released on compassionate grounds."

Rwandan authorities have told reporters in that country Erlinder revoked his statements about the genocide. His defense attorney, Kennedy Ogeto, however, said Erlinder has not confessed to any crime.

"He maintained whatever he has written, whatever speech he has made, is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and (he) maintained his innocence," Ogeto told MPR News. "He went further to say, if there is anything Rwandans have been offended with, he is prepared to revoke it."

But Ogeto said that is far short of a confession. He also said Erlinder denied trying to commit suicide.

"It's absolutely not true," Ogeto said. "I've just spoken to him. He said he doesn't know why anyone would make that allegation."

Scott Erlinder, a professor at DePaul University in Chicago, said his brother should be released.

"It's not like he committed any kind of true crime," he said. "We just think the best thing is for ... the Rwandan government to just deport him, get him back home, or get him to Tanzania where we can talk to him and find out what his medical state is."

Scott Erlinder and other family members are in Washington D.C. this week to meet with State Department officials and members of Congress.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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