Decision draws angry rebuke from President Pedro Castillo, who called on international courts to ‘protect justice’.
Peru’s top constitutional court has ruled that former President Alberto Fujimori can be freed from prison, where he had been sentenced to serve until 2032 for human rights violations.
Fujimori, 83, had previously been pardoned on Christmas Eve in 2017. But the Constitutional Tribunal overturned that controversial decision on the grounds that it had been irregular.
The new decision on Thursday reinstates the pardon, following the appointment of judges in recent years who are seen as more sympathetic to the former president.
The ruling, which was published on Thursday, showed judges voted 4-3 to free Fujimori. It was unclear when Fujimori could leave prison or if new legal challenges could halt the decision.
The decision triggered an angry reaction from President Pedro Castillo, a rival of Fujimori’s political legacy, who called on international courts to “protect the effective practice of justice”. Peru is a member of the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Left-wing groups were calling for protests later on Thursday. The first pardon prompted thousands to take to the streets.
Fujimori, who governed Peru between 1990 and 2000, is a highly polarising figure.
In his first term, he turned around the economy and ended a period of hyperinflation, but he was later sentenced for human rights violations involving a crackdown on the brutal Shining Path guerrilla group. He also sent the military to dissolve Congress and redrafted the Constitution.
Peruvian Prime Minister Anibal Torres said in response to the ruling that the government must obey it, although he criticised it as a way to “guarantee the impunity” of the former president.
“I have said in the past that this [court] should disappear, it is very negative for the country,” Torres told local media. “This organism has been doing a lot of damage to the country like in this concrete case.”
Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal is the country’s top court and is separate from the executive branch.
Castillo, who came to office in July after beating Fujimori’s daughter Keiko in a runoff election, had said during the campaign that he would like to dismantle the court. Since becoming president, however, he had been silent on the issue.
Fujimori resigned from the presidency in 2000 just after starting a third term. When a series of videos showed his spy chief bribing politicians in cash, he flew to Japan and submitted his resignation by fax. In Japan, he claimed Japanese citizenship and stayed for years before flying to Chile in 2005 where he was arrested. He was later extradited to Peru, where he was successfully prosecuted.
Fujimori was sentenced in 2009 and released in 2017 for a few months, before being jailed again when his pardon was overturned.
Fujimori’s allies – including his daughter Keiko, who has run for president three times – have long said he struggles with poor health and deserves a humanitarian pardon. Fujimori was hospitalised last week and discharged on Monday.