Peru's Fujimori Gets 25 Years

By Joshua Partlow and Lucien Chauvin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was convicted Tuesday of "crimes against humanity" and sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in killings and kidnappings by security forces during his government's battle against leftist guerrillas in the 1990s.

The verdict, delivered by a three-judge panel on a police base outside Lima where Fujimori has been held throughout the trial, marked the first time that an elected head of state has been extradited back to his home country, tried and convicted of human rights violations.

Human rights activists called it a precedent-setting verdict that upheld the ideal that violent abuses cannot be ignored under the banner of fighting terrorism.

"This is a sentence for all the innocents killed in the dirty war," said Gisela Ortiz, whose brother was among a group taken from a Lima university and executed in 1992 by a military death squad under Fujimori.

Many people in Peru admire Fujimori for largely defeating the Shining Path insurgency and ending a two-decade war that left about 70,000 people dead. But the tribunal found that Fujimori was guilty of creating and authorizing a military intelligence death squad that killed innocent people.

Fujimori, sitting alone at a table, betrayed little emotion as the verdict was read. Throughout the morning proceedings, he rarely looked up and instead scribbled in a notebook. His only utterance was to ask that the verdict be nullified.

Fujimori had faced up to 30 years in prison. His appeal will move to the Supreme Court.

"This is a stunning verdict," said Jo-Marie Burt, a Latin American studies professor at George Mason University who has been observing Fujimori's trial. "The court clearly laid out the reasoning behind the verdict, the structure of power Fujimori created and how he was the man behind the crimes."

Fujimori, 70, argued in defiant outbursts during his 16-month-long trial that he was a wartime president fighting to protect his people but that he never ordered the killings perpetrated by a death squad of the Army Intelligence Service known as the Colina Group. "I had to govern from hell," he said in his closing statements.

But Judge César San Martín said it was clear that Fujimori had authorized the creation of the death squad.

Despite his years behind bars, Fujimori still casts a wide shadow on Peruvian politics. His political movement remains popular, and his followers account for 13 seats in the 120-member Peruvian Congress. His daughter, congresswoman Keiko Fujimori, is considered a leading candidate to succeed President Alan García and has vowed to pardon her father if elected.

"I am crying inside," Keiko Fujimori said after the verdict was read. "I am indignant; I had expected that justice would be served."

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