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Rwandan judge turns down bail application by US lawyer charged with denying Rwandan genocide

KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — A Rwandan judge Monday turned down a bail application by an American lawyer charged with denying Rwanda's 1994 genocide and publishing articles that threaten the country's security.

Peter Erlinder pleaded not guilty to the charges in court last Friday and asked to be granted bail so he could return home for medical treatment.

The U.S. lawyer is accused of violating Rwanda's laws against minimizing the genocide in which hundreds of thousands of Rwandans, the vast majority of them ethnic Tutsis, were massacred by extremist Hutus in 100 days. Erlinder doesn't deny massive violence happened but contends it's inaccurate to blame just one side.

"The medical report which Erlinder presented to court only shows that he was hospitalized twice but it does not convince court that his hospitalization was a result of detention," said Judge Maurice Mbishibishi

He said Erlinder will remain in detention for 30 days and can appeal the bail decision in five days time. His lawyers said they are going to appeal it immediately in Rwanda's High Court.

Erlinder, who was arrested on May 28, was hospitalized last Tuesday after taking dozens of pills in what Rwandan police said was an attempted suicide. But his family has denied this. Erlinder, 62, does take prescription antidepressants and cholesterol-reducing medication.

Foreign Affairs Minister Louise Mushikiwabo said the government respects the court's decision and will make sure Erlinder gets all the medical attention he needs as well as has full access to his lawyers.

"The prosecution of Peter Erlinder is not a political tactic; it is an act of justice. If critics disagree with the Rwandan laws against the denial or defense of genocide, we invite and welcome that debate," said Mushikiwabo in a statement.

Erlinder arrived in Rwanda two weeks ago to help with the legal defense of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire and was arrested a few days later. Ingabire, a Hutu, wants to run for president in Aug. 9 elections, challenging incumbent President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi. But she was arrested in April and charged with promoting a genocidal ideology.

The U.S. lawyer, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, has a reputation for taking on difficult, often unpopular defendants and causes. A past president of the progressive National Lawyers Guild, Erlinder leads a group of defense lawyers at the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is trying the alleged leaders of the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda's genocide ended when mostly Tutsi rebels led by Kagame defeated the mostly Hutu extremist perpetrators.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, Erlinder's brother, Scott Erlinder said they were disappointed that the judge declined to release him and that the charge of genocide denial strikes them as absurd.

"Why he is still being detained is a mystery to me," he said.

If convicted, Erlinder faces up to 25 years in prison.

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Associated Press writer Steve Karnowski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.