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Dean McConnaughay joins law school deans in demanding law professor's freedom

The arrest and treatment of U.S. defense lawyer Peter Erlinder, a faculty member at William Mitchell College of Law, has prompted widespread international condemnation, including from American law school deans and a statement from the American Bar Association. In a letter dated June 7 to Rwandan Ambassador Kimonyo, Penn State Law Dean Philip J. McConnaughay joined 89 other U.S. law school deans urging the release of Erlinder, who was arrested on May 28 for pursuing a legal defense of Madame Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, a Rwandan politician and presidential candidate accused of denying the genocide and collaborating with a terrorist organization.

“An attorney’s ability to advocate for a client, even an unpopular one, is fundamental to the rule of law,” said McConnaughay.

The letter to Ambassador Kimonyo states:

As legal educators, we believe we have an obligation to nurture in our students the core values of the legal profession. These core values are threatened by the arrest in Rwanda of William Mitchell College of Law Professor Peter Erlinder. We are writing to respectfully request your assistance in ensuring his safety and release.

The U.N. Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state that lawyers “shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions” and that “governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.” These principles also provide that “lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly.”

As you know, Professor Erlinder was in Kigali to pursue a legal defense for Madame Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza. We believe that he has been arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned unjustly and for simply doing the work of the lawyer: advocating on behalf of his client.

Ambassador Kimonyo, we respectfully urge the government of Rwanda to abide by these principles, to refrain from harassment of lawyers practicing law consistent with their professional obligations, and to release Professor Erlinder forthwith.

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