Peru: high court upholds 25-year prison term for Fujimori

On Jan. 3 a five-member panel of the Peruvian Supreme Court unanimously upheld a 25-year prison sentence for former president Alberto Fujimori (1990-2000) for deaths and serious injuries caused by a paramilitary unit during his administration; Supreme Court justice César San Martín Castro had handed down the sentence on April 7, 2009. The panel also voted 4-1 to confirm Fujimori’s conviction for two kidnappings. The ex-president, 71, could remain in prison until 2032; the two years since he was arrested in Chile in 2007 count as time served. He would be eligible for parole in 2025.

The homicide and injury convictions stem from two massacres of unarmed civilians carried out by the Colina Group, a death squad organized by military intelligence and allegedly reporting to the president: the November 1991 killing of 15 people at a family barbecue in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima, and the July 1992 abduction and murder of nine university students and a professor from the Enrique Guzmán y Valle (La Cantuta) university. The group also kidnapped journalist Gustavo Gorriti and business owner Samuel Dyer in 1992; both were subsequently released. The kidnapping conviction is significant because presidential pardons are not allowed in kidnapping cases. According to opinion polls, Fujimori’s daughter, Congress member Keiko Fujimori, is the second most popular candidate for the 2011 presidential race; she has said she would free her father if elected. (El País, Spain, Jan. 3; Prensa Latina, Jan. 3)

Many Peruvians supported Fujimori in his campaign of repression against rebel groups, and random interviews by the daily El Comercio in the streets of Lima on Jan. 3 found a sizeable minority opposing the Supreme Court decision. But the paper reported that a clear majority approved of the sentence. “The crimes were real,” one person said. “There had to be a guilty party, and everything starts from the head. I don’t believe he wasn’t informed on the subject.” (El Comercio, Lima, Jan. 3)

Meanwhile, US activist Lori Berenson, arrested by Fujimori’s government in 1995, continues to serve a 20-year sentence for allegedly collaborating with the rebels of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). In 2003 she married a fellow prisoner, former MRTA member Anibal Apari, who was released from prison that year and is now a lawyer in Lima; the couple had their first child in May 2009. Berenson, who insists on her innocence, becomes eligible for parole in November of this year. (Huffington Post, May 6, 2009)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 4

See our last post on Peru.