Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison after his conviction for “crimes against humanity,” becoming the first elected Latin leader convicted in his home country of human rights abuses.
A special court in Lima tried and convicted the former president for his role in crimes committed by an army death squad during his 1990 to 2000 rule.
But an impassive Fujimori, 70, immediately said he would appeal, while his daughter Keiko — a congresswoman considering a run for the presidency in 2011 — called for peaceful protests against what she called an “unjust” verdict.
“They’ve won the battle, but not the war,” she said.
More than 2,000 Fujimori supporters demonstrated after the result to show their anger.
“If I see that judge, I swear on my mother’s name, I’ll kill him,” said one elderly woman protester.
Human rights groups, however, hailed the result, calling it “historic” and a “milestone” in making wayward former heads of state accountable for their crimes.
Fujimori maintained his innocence throughout his 15-month trial, which counted as the longest and most expensive in Peru’s history.
He claimed he was kept unaware of the actions of the death squad when it carried out the main crimes examined by the court: the murders of 15 people attending a Lima barbecue in 1991; and the abduction and murders of nine university students and their professor in the capital the following year.
But the court found he authorized and protected the army unit, known as La Colina.
It also determined that he ordered the 1992 kidnappings of a businessman and a journalist.
The crimes occurred during the darkest days of Peru’s two-decade fight against leftist rebels that left 70,000 people dead or missing.
Fujimori’s tough stand against insurgents — epitomized by his ordering commandos to storm the Japanese ambassador’s residence in April 1997, ending a four-month hostage drama organized by Tupac Amaru guerrillas — eventually crushed their movements.
But that legacy, while it won plaudits from many in Peru, left an uneasy conviction for many more that he had crossed the line into autocratic action and brutality — a suspicion confirmed by Tuesday’s verdict.
International observers said the three judges handling the case scrupulously observed due process.
Amnesty International, in a statement, called Fujimori’s conviction “a crucial milestone in the global struggle against impunity.”
“What this sentence implies is that the ends cannot justify the means,” Michael Reed Hurtado from the International Center for Transitional Justice said after attending the court verdict.