MINNEAPOLIS - A U.S. law professor jailed in Rwanda and charged with denying the country's genocide tried to commit suicide by swallowing dozens of pills in his prison cell, Rwandan officials said Wednesday, but his daughter said his family did not believe the claim.
Peter Erlinder, 62, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn., has long been a sharp critic of the Central African nation's president and even helped file a lawsuit accusing the onetime rebel leader of sparking the slaughter that erupted there in 1994.
The professor, who has a history of taking on unpopular causes, was arrested about a week after going to Rwanda to help with the legal defense of Victoire Ingabire, an opposition leader running against President Paul Kagame in Aug. 9 elections. Ingabire is accused of promoting genocidal ideology.
Erlinder is accused of violating Rwanda's laws against minimizing the genocide in which more than 500,000 Rwandans, the vast majority of them ethnic Tutsis, were massacred by Hutus in 100 days. He does not deny massive violence happened but contends it is inaccurate to blame just one side.
Rwandan police spokesman Eric Kayiranga said that Erlinder swallowed 45 to 50 pills in his prison cell Tuesday night and that the attempt may lead courts to charge the professor again, this time with attempted suicide.
"He mixed between 45 and 50 tablets in water and took the concoction in an attempted suicide," Kayiranga said. "However, the police managed to intercept and took Erlinder to hospital before the drugs could take their toll on his body."
Daniel Nyamwasa, director of the National Police Hospital, where Erlinder is being treated, said his condition was improving Wednesday. He said Erlinder may have swallowed his prescription antidepressants and cholesterol-reducing medication.
Erlinder's daughter, Sarah Erlinder, an Arizona lawyer, said that his family learned of his hospitalization from U.S. Embassy officials in Kigali and his lawyers Wednesday. She said that neither his attorneys nor embassy staff heard about it until three hours after it happened.