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Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s divisive former president, released from jail | Peru

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Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s divisive former president, released from jail | Peru


The 85-year-old was pictured leaving prison in Lima where he was serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses

Alberto Fujimori, Peru’s former strongman leader, was freed from jail after a ruling from the country’s highest court granted him a humanitarian pardon, despite a request from the regional Inter-American Court of Human Rights to delay his release.

Looking frail and wearing a face mask, the 85-year-old was received by his lawyer, two of his children Kenji and Keiko Fujimori – his political heiress and three-time presidential candidate – and helped into a waiting vehicle amid cheers from his supporters, who waved banners, honked horns and chanted “Fujimori Libertad”, or “Fujimori freedom”.

Surrounded by supporters and journalists, the vehicle edged forward as it left the Barbadillo police base and prison where the former president had been serving a 25-year sentence for corruption and ordering massacres committed by an army death squad in the early 1990s.

It was the latest chapter of a drawn-out legal saga that saw Peru’s constitutional court rule on Tuesday to free the former authoritarian leader. In response, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked the Peruvian state to “refrain from executing the order”. The international court, of which Peru is a signatory, has repeatedly told the country that Fujimori could not be pardoned due to his conviction for human rights crimes.

Fujimori remains a highly divisive figure in Peru. His autocratic leadership in the 1990s left an enduring legacy. His supporters credit him with stamping out the Maoist Shining Path movement and putting the economy back on track after rampant hyperinflation. Many others believe he ruled as an iron-fisted dictator during his decade in power, which was marked by widespread human rights abuses and rampant corruption.

The constitutional court’s decision upholds its own 2022 appeal to restore a controversial humanitarian pardon granted to Fujimori on Christmas Eve in 2017, which was later overturned due to pressure from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Supporters of former president Alberto Fujimori await outside Penal Barbadillo for his release on Wednesday in Lima, Peru. Photograph: Getty Images

The UN human rights office called the court’s ruling “a concerning setback for accountability”, adding: “Any humanitarian release of those responsible for serious human rights violations must be in line with international law.”

“They had to dismantle democracy in Peru to get Alberto Fujimori released,” tweeted Jo-Marie Burt, a senior fellow at the US-based Washington Office on Latin America.

“Now, internationally, Peru is on a par with countries like Venezuela and Nicaragua that have left the Inter-American system or openly flout it,” she added.

“As relatives of victims, we are … in between anguish, anger and the feeling of being second-class citizens,” tweeted Gisela Ortiz, whose brother, a university student, was killed in a 1992 death squad massacre that Fujimori was convicted of ordering.

“Our rights have been [subordinated] to the undeserved freedom of a criminal,” she added.

Fujimori was convicted of ordering two massacres carried out by the army death squad Grupo Colina. The first of the two occurred in 1991 in the capital city’s poor Barrios Altos neighbourhood. Balaclava-clad soldiers gunned down 15 residents including an eight-year-old boy at a barbecue.

Then, in 1992, the same secret military outfit kidnapped and killed nine students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University, among them Ortiz’s brother, Luis Enrique. Their burnt remains were discovered in a patch of wasteland and forensic experts said they had been tortured and shot in the back of the head.

The case against Fujimori took years to come to court. The former leader resigned by fax from Japan, his parent’s homeland, just as he was starting a third term in 2000 after leaked videotapes showed his spymaster Vladimiro Montesinos bribing lawmakers with stacks of cash.

After five years in Japan, he flew to Chile, planning to launch his candidacy for the 2006 elections in Peru but, instead, he was arrested and extradited to Peru in 2007. His trial was seen by human rights activists as a milestone in the fight for justice and against impunity but regarded by his supporters as a travesty.

The government of president Dina Boluarte – which abided by the court ruling rather than following the request of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – itself faces accusations of human rights violations and employing “excessive and lethal use of force” after its deadly response to more than two months of anti-government protests in December 2022 and January 2023, which claimed at least 60 lives.

This [decision] is a tremendous setback,” said Carlos Rivera, a human rights lawyer for the Legal Defense Institute. “This will have very serious consequences for the rule of law and our international standing.”

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