LIMA, Peru (AP) – Peruvian authorities said Wednesday they will comply with a request from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights not to release former President Alberto Fujimori from prison until he can consider the case.
The move came almost two weeks after Peru’s Constitutional Court issued a controversial order to release Fujimori from prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence on murder and corruption charges.
Special Prosecutor Carlos Reaño confirmed to The Associated Press that officials are holding Fujimori at the regional court’s request. Fujimori supporters have gathered outside the prison hoping for his release, while those opposed to his release have been protesting in downtown Lima.
The Constitutional Court’s decision restored a humanitarian pardon granted to 83-year-old Fujimori on Christmas Eve 2017 by then-President Pablo Kuczynski. The country’s Supreme Court in 2018 overturned the medical pardon and ordered the former strongman’s return to prison to serve out his sentence for human rights abuses.
Spokespersons for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights did not respond to AP questions. A spokesman for the Constitutional Court declined to comment.
Fujimori is being held in an exclusive prison where he is the only prisoner. In addition to the 25-year sentence for murder, Fujimori was convicted on three counts of corruption, for which he owes $13.6 million in civil damages.
The regional legal court’s motion was first announced by the Center for Justice and International Law, a group representing some of Fujimori’s victims. Its communications director, Daniel Pinilla, said in a statement that Peru’s regional court had ordered not to release Fujimori to “guarantee the victims’ right of access to justice.”
Fujimori, who ruled from 1990 to 2000, remains a polarizing figure in the Andean country. Some Peruvians praise him for defeating the Maoist guerrilla movement, the Shining Path, while others detest him for the human rights abuses committed under his rule.
Fujimori, a former mathematics professor, was a political maverick when he emerged from the darkness and won Peru’s 1990 presidential election over writer Mario Vargas Llosa.
When he took office, rampant inflation and guerrilla violence ravaged Peru. He quickly rebuilt the economy with mass privatizations of state industries. Defeating the Shining Path’s fanatical rebels took longer, but his fight garnered widespread support.
But his presidency collapsed just as dramatically as his rise to power.
After a brief shutdown of Congress and a third term, Fujimori fled the country in disgrace in 2000 after leaked videotapes showed his spy chief Vladimiro bribing Montesino’s lawmakers. Fujimori went to Japan, his parents’ homeland, and handed 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 aim was to run again for the Peruvian presidency in 2006, but he was tried instead.
His daughter, Keiko Fujimori, was a presidential candidate last year and vowed to release him if she was elected. But Pedro Castillo defeated them in a runoff.
Even at liberty, Fujimori was unable to leave Peru due to another recent court order, as another trial charges him with plotting the murder of six peasants who were executed by the same military command involved in his current sentencing.
The decision of the Constitutional Court was criticized by international experts. Release would reduce Fujimori’s sentence by a decade.
UN human rights experts said in a statement that “reversing the effects of Fujimori’s 25-year prison sentence would constitute a serious blow to the judiciary and the rule of law, unless justified by clearly acceptable grounds under national and international law.” and a violation of the right to justice of victims and their families.”
Juan Pappier, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, told the AP that the judges who voted to release Fujimori didn’t even know that there was a binding ruling from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Fujimori’s alleged humanitarian pardon.
“That’s a mistake even a first-year law student shouldn’t make,” Pappier said. He added that the Peruvian court’s lawsuit “does not contain enough arguments to justify a decision of this magnitude and represents a real setback in the fight against impunity in Peru.”