Peru court sentences Fujimori to 25 years in prison for 'dirty war'

A special tribunal has sentenced former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in prison for what it called "crimes against humanity" committed by death squads during his 10-year autocratic rule.
Opponents of Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori celebrate after the verdict in his trial was announced in Lima on Tuesday. ((Karel Navarro/Associated Press))

A special tribunal has sentenced former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori to 25 years in prison for what it called "crimes against humanity" committed by death squads during his 10-year autocratic rule.

The 70-year-old former leader was convicted of 25 murders committed by a military hit squad in the early 1990s and the kidnappings of a businessman and a journalist.

Peru's former president Alberto Fujimori listens in a Lima courtroom Tuesday as he is sentenced to 25 years in prison. ((Paco Medina/Peruvian Supreme Court/Associated Press) )

The three-judge court said Tuesday there was no question Fujimori authorized the hit squad's creation and a cover-up of the 50 murders as he crushed the Maoist Shining Path insurgency.

Fujimori said he would appeal.

Outside the Lima police base where the trial was being held, supporters and critics of Fujimori fought each other with sticks, fists and rocks after the verdict was announced, with chants of "Fujimori innocent!" and "Fujimori killer!" shouted by rival bands.

Some 30 relatives of victims clashed with about 500 Fujimori supporters. Riot police broke up the melee and no injuries were immediately reported.

Fujimori has already been sentenced to six years in prison for abuse of power and still faces two corruption trials on charges including bribing lawmakers and paying off a TV station.

Despite his violent legacy, Fujimori remains remarkably popular and his successors have maintained his market-friendly policies.

Peru had Latin America's strongest economic growth from 2002-2008, averaging 6.7 per cent.

A November poll found two-thirds of Peruvians approved of his leadership, even though it ended in disgrace when videotapes showed his intelligence chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, bribing lawmakers and businessmen.

Fujimori fled to Japan, then attempted a return five years later via Chile, which extradited him.

In its first bloody raid, the military death squad Fujimori was convicted of authorizing killed 15 people — including an 8-year-old — with silencer-equipped machine guns during a raid on a barbecue in July 1991 in the Barrios Altos district.

Seven months later, in July 1992, the so-called Colina group "disappeared " nine students and a leftist professor at La Cantuta university.

Fujimori was also convicted of two 1992 kidnappings: the 10-day abduction of businessman Samuel Dyer and the 24-hour abduction of Gustavo Gorriti, a leading journalist who had criticized the president's shuttering of the opposition-led Congress and courts.

In his final appeal Friday, Fujimori cast himself as a victim of political persecution, saying the charges against him reflect a double standard.

Why isn't current President Alan Garcia also being prosecuted, he asked. It was from Garcia, who preceded him in office, that Fujimori inherited a messy conflict that would claim 70,000 lives.

Garcia denies responsibility for any human rights abuses during his 1985-90 administration — and has the power to pardon Fujimori.

Fujimori's 33-year-old daughter, Keiko, is a congresswoman and leading candidate for president in 2011 elections.

She has not formally announced her candidacy but has said she would pardon her father if elected.

Human rights advocates flocked to Lima anticipating a historic verdict.

Maria McFarland of Human Rights Watch-Americas said the case is important because "institutions of justice that Fujimori himself trampled on and controlled for so many years" had fairly judged him.