Peru’s ex-President Fujimori released from prison after 16 years

LIMA (Reuters) -Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori, who was serving a 25-year prison term for human rights abuses during his decade-long rule in the 1990s, was released from jail late on Wednesday despite criticism from an international human rights court.

Peru’s highest court on Tuesday ruled in favor of an appeal to restore a 2017 pardon for Fujimori, 85, on humanitarian grounds. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) had earlier requested the move be blocked.

Fujimori served around 16 years after being extradited from Chile in 2007.

The former president, whose doctors say has serious health issues, was filmed on Wednesday leaving the prison wearing a breathing tube and a mask. His children hugged him before he got into a car, which took him to the home of his eldest daughter and political heiress Keiko.

“Today we finally have our father home,” Keiko said through a megaphone at the door of her home, where her father is now expected to reside. “There is no hatred or resentment in my heart, but gratitude.”

As Fujimori left the prison, local TV footage showed a crowd of supporters cheering and pushing against his car as it tried to leave the prison’s premises on the outskirts of Lima.

“It was time for this injustice against Fujimori to end, thanks to him our country is on its feet,” Catalina Ponce, a Fujimori supporter waiting outside the prison, said earlier in the day.

Supporters of Fujimori believe he saved Peru from terrorism and economic collapse.

Critics, however, say he abused democracy and committed atrocities during his government’s battle against the Shining Path guerrillas.

Fujimori was convicted in 2009 of ordering the massacre of 25 people in 1991 and 1992 while his government fought the Shining Path.

But he was pardoned on Christmas Eve in 2017 by the president of the time, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. He walked free for about nine months before a court declared it null.

Since then, the pardon has been repeatedly annulled or suspended by lower courts after pressure from the Inter-American Court and victims’ families, but Peru’s constitutional court restored the pardon earlier this week.

Shortly after the order, the president of the Inter-American Court asked Peru to stop the pardon until it had “all the necessary elements” to analyze whether conditions were met.

Fujimori’s release comes as approval for the government of President Dina Boluarte has sunk into single-digits and to its lowest level in the year since her predecessor was ousted.

Boluarte is also facing a constitutional complaint by the country’s attorney general for dozens of deaths that took place during anti-government protests after she took office.

(Reporting by Marco Aquino; Writing by Sarah Morland and Isabel Woodford; Editing by Mark Porter, Brendan O’Boyle and Neil Fullick)