Alberto Fujimori is released from prison in Peru

Peru’s top court on Tuesday ordered the release of former President Alberto Fujimori from prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, defying an international court’s order that the South American country is holding him behind bars. bars.

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

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

Some experts described Tuesday’s decision by Peru’s Supreme Court as an example of institutional decay in a country that has gone through consecutive political crises in recent years.

“Until now we hadn’t seen this attitude of open defiance from the Peruvian state, which basically says it’s no big deal if we don’t respect our international obligations,” said Pedro Grández, an expert in Peruvian constitutional law.

Before the court’s decision, the Inter-American Court reiterated its decision that Mr. Fujimori should not be released under the 2017 pardon. But the center-right government of President Dina Boluarte should respect the Peruvian court’s decision.

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

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

The decision was the latest development in a rollercoaster ride linked to Fujimori’s imprisonment, and came amid a wave of political scandals and concerns about impunity in the country of 33 million people.

Fujimori, elected three decades ago as an anti-establishment outsider, came to power as hyperinflation devastated Peru’s economy and left-wing rebel groups carried out terrorist campaigns in which tens of millions 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 left-wing guerrillas. Dozens of civilians were subjected to extrajudicial executions at the hands of the death squads that prosecutors said Fujimori created. He abruptly resigned by fax from Japan, the homeland of his parents, in 2000, after videos showing the country’s spymaster making secret payments were made public.

Mr. Fujimori was convicted in 2009 of human rights violations constituting crimes against humanity under international law in relation to extrajudicial killings and abductions. He was sentenced by a Peruvian court to more than two decades in prison and served 16 years.

Mr. Fujimori’s family says he has pulmonary fibrosis, a terminal disease. Now, at age 85, he is held in a special penitentiary for Peruvian presidents in Lima, along with two other former presidents, 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 thanks to the support of Fujimori’s supporters in Congress. The pardon was rescinded the following year and Mr. Fujimori was ordered back to prison. In 2022, the constitutional court reinstated the pardon, but the Inter-American Court ruled against it before Fujimori could be released. The Peruvian court now argues that the court did not have jurisdiction to make that decision.

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

“He is very calm, enthusiastic and clinically stable,” Mr Fujimori’s lawyer, Elio Riera, told reporters after speaking to him. “He is very confident about the fulfillment of this order.”

Carlos Rivera, a lawyer representing victims of the massacres of which Fujimori was found guilty, said the court’s position moved the country toward “a scenario of non-compliance with the rulings of an international body.”

Dino Carlos Caro, professor of law at the University of Salamanca, he wrote, previously Twitter: “Why the fear of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights? The Court plays a fundamental role in the protection of human rights, but like every body, every power, it has limits.”

In 2018, the international court described a path through which Fujimori could seek clemency under international law: requiring him to publicly apologize to his victims and pay civil compensation.

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