U.S. State Dept. asks Rwanda to free jailed St. Paul professor

Usui and Erlinder
Masako Usui and her husband, jailed St. Paul law professor Peter Erlinder, have been married for about 10 years.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

The U.S. State Department is asking the Rwandan government to free jailed St. Paul law professor Peter Erlinder.

Erlinder's family members said they hope he will be released as early as tomorrow. The William Mitchell College of Law professor has been held in a Rwandan prison for six days on allegations that he expressed illegal views about the country's 1994 genocide.

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 told reporters. "We are pressing the Rwandan government to resolve this case quickly and would like to see him released on compassionate grounds."

Gena Berglund, a friend of Erlinder who joined family members in a meeting with State Department officials Thursday afternoon, said the officials told the family they are working all of their connections in Rwanda to push for his release.

"Things are starting to move and change, and in the right direction," Berglund said. "We're very hopeful we'll have a good resolution -- an 'expeditious resolution,' as the State Department says -- very soon."

State Department officials assured Erlinder's supporters that they were working on the case around the clock -- but until today, their efforts were mostly behind the scenes, Berglund said.

Since Erlinder's arrest on Friday, his attorneys and family members have criticized the State Department's refusal to immediately call for Erlinder's release. His attorneys could not be immediately reached for comment.

"Maybe they're taking a more aggressive approach in the last couple of days, I don't know. But nonetheless, we've been assured they've been monitoring this case closely and doing everything in their power to get it resolved quickly," Berglund said.

Berglund said she expects good news to come out of Erlinder's scheduled interrogation with a prosecutor in Rwanda Friday morning. A consular official from the U.S. embassy in the capital city of Kigali has arranged to be there, Berglund said.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.