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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Peru’s top court orders Fujimori released from prison

Fujimori was convicted in 2009 of human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity under international law in connection with the extrajudicial killings and kidnappings.

By Mitra Taj and Genevieve Glatsky

Peru’s top court earlier this week ordered former President Alberto Fujimori released from prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights violations, defying an order by an international court that the South American country keep him behind bars.

The court, Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal, voted 3-1 to reaffirm its decision to instate a presidential pardon granted to Fujimori in 2017; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights had found the pardon violated the rights of his victims.

Fujimori’s lawyer told reporters that the former president would most likely be released from prison Wednesday.

Some experts described the decision Tuesday by Peru’s top court as an example of institutional decay in a country that has undergone back-to-back political crises in recent years.

“Until now, we hadn’t seen this attitude of the Peruvian state of open defiance, of saying basically that it’s no big deal if we do not comply with our international obligations,” said Pedro Grández, an expert on Peruvian constitutional law.

Ahead of the court’s decision, the Inter-American court reiterated its decision that Fujimori should not be released under the 2017 pardon. But President Dina Boluarte’s center-right government is expected to abide by the decision of the Peruvian court.

In its ruling, the Constitutional Tribunal said that if the international court believed Peru was violating its international obligations, it should take the matter to the Organization of American States, the regional body that the Inter-American Court is part of.

“The body that decides is the Constitutional Tribunal,” right-wing lawmaker José Cueto said after the verdict. “The Inter-American Court of Human Rights can say whatever it wants and do what it believes is appropriate, but we don’t have to listen to it,” he added.

The decision was the latest development in the roller coaster surrounding Fujimori’s incarceration, and it came amid a surge in political scandals and concerns about impunity in the country of 33 million people.

Fujimori, who was elected three decades ago as an anti-establishment outsider, came to power as hyperinflation ravaged Peru’s economy and left-wing rebel groups carried out terror campaigns in which tens of thousands of people were killed.

Two years after his election, Fujimori dissolved Congress with the support of the military, suspended the constitution and began ruling as a dictator.

His tenure was marked by a brutal government counterinsurgency campaign against leftist guerrillas. Dozens of civilians were subjected to extrajudicial killings at the hands of death squads that prosecutors said Fujimori had created. He abruptly resigned by fax from his parents’ homeland of Japan in 2000, after videos showing the country’s spy master paying bribes were made public.

Fujimori was convicted in 2009 of human rights violations that amount to crimes against humanity under international law in connection with the extrajudicial killings and kidnappings. He was sentenced by a Peruvian court to more than two decades in prison, and has served 16 years.

Fujimori’s family says he has pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal illness. Now 85, he has been held in a special penitentiary for Peruvian presidents in Lima, along with two other former presidents, Pedro Castillo and Alejandro Toledo. Fujimori’s daughter Keiko Fujimori is an influential opposition leader who narrowly lost last year’s presidential election to Castillo, as well as two previous presidential runoffs.

In 2017, President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori before an impeachment vote that Kuczynski survived with the support of Fujimori’s supporters in Congress. The pardon was annulled the following year, and Fujimori was ordered back to prison. In 2022, the constitutional tribunal reinstated the pardon, but the Inter-American court ruled against it before Fujimori could be released. The Peruvian tribunal now claims that the court did not have the jurisdiction to make that decision.

After the decision, television stations showed a group of Fujimori’s supporters celebrating outside the prison.

“He’s very calm, enthusiastic and clinically stable,” Fujimori’s lawyer, Elio Riera, told journalists after speaking with him. “He’s very hopeful about the fulfillment of this order.”

Carlos Rivera, a lawyer who represents victims of the massacres that Fujimori was found guilty of perpetrating, said the tribunal’s position moved the country toward “a scenario of noncompliance with sentences of an international body.’’

Dino Carlos Caro, a law professor at the University of Salamanca, wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter: “Why the fear of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights? The Court fulfills a fundamental role in protecting human rights, but like any body, any power, it has limits.”

In 2018, the international court described a path for Fujimori to seek a pardon that would conform to international law: It required him to publicly apologize to his victims and pay civil reparations.

“While the court opened the door to a new, legal pardon, Fujimori and his defense and family have never wanted to cross it,” Rivera said.

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