An American lawyer has appeared in a Rwandan court to face charges he denied the country's 1994 genocide.

Peter Erlinder pleaded not guilty Friday during the hearing in the capital, Kigali.

Erlinder told the court that he was not aware his publications in America could amount to genocide denial.  Rwanda has a strict law against denying or minimizing the genocide in which Hutu extremists killed an estimated 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Erlinder also asked to be released so that he could return to the U.S. for medical treatment.  He was hospitalized for high blood pressure earlier in the week.  Rwandan authorities say he attempted to commit suicide on Wednesday.

Erlinder promised to comply with any conditions set by the court.  The judge said he would make a decision on Monday.

The U.S. wants Rwanda to resolve the case quickly and release Erlinder on compassionate grounds.

Erlinder was arrested May 28.  He went to Rwanda to defend opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire, who is also accused of denying the genocide.

Police found Erlinder nearly unconscious in his cell Wednesday morning.  Rwandan authorities say he overdosed on prescription pills in an apparent attempt at suicide.

Erlinder's daughter has told the Associated Press his family does not believe he tried to kill himself.  She said the family fears the Rwandan government is trying to hurt him.

Erlinder, who teaches law at a university in the northern U.S. state of Minnesota, has challenged the Rwandan government's accounts of the genocide.  He has said he believes the Tutsis, who now rule Rwanda, assassinated Rwanda's president in 1994 - sparking the violence.

He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.


Some information for this report was provided by AP.