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Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori freed from prison on humanitarian grounds

Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori, 85, center, is driven out of prison by his children Keiko, center right, and Kenji, center left, after being released from prison in Callao, Peru, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023.
Martin Mejia
Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori, 85, center, is driven out of prison by his children Keiko, center right, and Kenji, center left, after being released from prison in Callao, Peru, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023.

Updated December 6, 2023 at 8:53 PM ET

LIMA, Peru — Peru's former President Alberto Fujimori was released from prison Wednesday on humanitarian grounds, despite a request from a regional human rights court to delay his release.

Fujimori, 85, was serving a 25-year sentence in connection with the slayings of 25 Peruvians by death squads in the 1990s. Peru's constitutional court ordered his immediate release on Tuesday, but the Inter-American Court of Human Rights asked for a delay to study the ruling.

Fujimori, who governed Peru from 1990 to 2000, was sentenced in 2009 on charges of human rights abuses. He was accused of being the mastermind behind the slayings of the 25 Peruvians while the government fought the Shining Path communist rebels.

Fujimori, wearing a face mask and getting supplemental oxygen, walked out of the prison door and got in a sport utility vehicle driven by his daughter-in-law. He sat in the backseat with son and daughter, right-wing career politician Keiko Fujimori.
Dozens of supporters awaited him outside the prison and swarmed the vehicle as it attempted to move. It moved slowly through the streets of the prison's neighborhood as people chanted and banged on the windows.

Fujimori was expected to live at this daughter's house.

Peru's Constitutional Court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a humanitarian pardon granted to Fujimori on Christmas Eve in 2017 by then-President Pablo Kuczynski. The country's Supreme Court overturned the pardon under pressure from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2018 and ordered the former strongman returned to prison to serve out his sentence.

In Tuesday's ruling, the magistrates explained that while "the seriousness of the crimes for which (Fujimori) was sentenced is evident," they cannot "ignore... the humanitarian pardon" granted to the former president in 2017 and upheld by their court in 2022.

"... If, according to the ruling of this Court in March 2022, the judicial resolutions that left the 2017 humanitarian pardon without legal effect were declared null, then (Fujimori) has been pardoned for almost six years without his freedom having been made effective to this day, which constitutes an obvious violation of this fundamental right," according to the ruling that also considered Fujimori's advanced age and poor health.

After the Constitutional Court issued its latest ruling, the president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Ricardo Pérez Manrique, in a resolution asked for the delay of Fujimori's release in order to "guarantee the right of access to justice" of the 25 people who were murdered in two massacres.

"We live in an orphanhood because we do not have institutions of any kind capable of defending us," Gisela Ortiz, sister of one of the victims for whom Fujimori was convicted, told The Associated Press. "Peru gives the image of a country where the rights of victims are not guaranteed and where human rights issues have no importance."

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, on Wednesday said the Constitutional Court's order to release Fujimori "is a worrying setback," adding that "any humanitarian release of those responsible for serious human rights violations must be in accordance with international law."

Fujimori remains a polarizing figure in Peru. His policies improved the country's economy and pulled it out of a cycle of hyperinflation. But he also used the military to dissolve Congress and rewrite the constitution as well as to crack down on guerrilla violence.

The first of the two massacres he is accused of plotting occurred in 1991 in a poverty-stricken Lima neighborhood. Hooded soldiers fatally shot 15 residents, including an 8-year-old child, who had gathered at a party.

Then, in 1992, the clandestine military squad kidnapped and killed nine students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle University. Forensic experts reported the victims were tortured and shot in the back of the head.

Their bodies were burned and hidden in common graves.

The squad operated under the façade of an architecture firm and was financed by Fujimori's government.

The accusations against Fujimori have led to years of legal wrangling. He resigned just as he was starting a third term and fled the country in disgrace after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents' homeland, and sent in his resignation by fax.

Five years later, he stunned supporters and enemies alike when he flew to neighboring Chile, where he was arrested and extradited to Peru. Fujimori's goal was to run for Peru's presidency again in 2006, but instead, he was put on trial.

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The Associated Press
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