Peter Erlinder back in hospital in Rwanda

Erlinder at William Mitchell
Law professor Peter Erlinder, shown in this 2009 file photo in his office at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Laura Yuen

Jailed Twin Cities attorney Peter Erlinder is in a Rwandan hospital again. The 62-year-old St. Paul law professor was taken in for high blood pressure this morning.

It's the fourth time Erlinder has been hospitalized since his arrest last month in the capital city of Kigali for allegedly denying the country's genocide. The William Mitchell College of Law professor had traveled to the African nation to represent an opposition leader who faces similar charges.

Family members say they learned about the hospitalization in an email today from the U.S. embassy and Erlinder's lawyers in Rwanda.

Scott Erlinder of Chicago said his brother apparently has chosen to not take his prescription blood-pressure pills.

"He's not been taking his medication because they're in normal pill bottles, and he's concerned that someone might be tampering with them," said Scott Erlinder. "We've now sent blister-pack medications -- I don't think they've arrived yet -- to make sure they're individually wrapped."

Scott Erlinder said it's hard for the family to assess his brother's medical health.

"We've never been able to talk to him," he said. "All we get is the government's information on that side. And we can only go through what the lawyers have been telling us, but they're not medical people. So who are we to know what the true situation is?"

A Rwandan judge denied Erlinder's request for bail last week. An appeal hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Gena Berglund, Erlinder's friend and colleague, said she hopes that international pressure will lead to Erlinder's release and prevent a lengthy court battle.

"The longer he stays in there, the more entrenched the Rwandan position looks to us and the harder it is, I think, for them to find a way to save face," Berglund said. "So I think the sooner he gets out, the better."

Berglund pointed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks earlier this week as a hopeful sign.

In response to a question asked at a round-table discussion on Monday, Clinton said that that the U.S. had expressed its concerns over Erlinder's detention to the Rwandan government.

"We really don't want to see Rwanda undermine its own remarkable progress by beginning to move away from a lot of the very positive actions that undergirded its development so effectively," Clinton said.

Clinton said she understood "the anxiety of the Rwandan leadership over what they view as genocide denial or genocide rejectionism."

"But I think there are ways of dealing with that legitimate concern other than politically acting against opposition figures or lawyers and others," she said.

But Berglund said she knows that Erlinder faces an uphill battle to secure his release.

"We've been hopeful before and been disapppointed," she said.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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