Incarcerated for authorizing death squads and corruption, former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is not permitted to give interviews or make public statements. Yet he has 10,000 Twitter followers three weeks after opening an account, and he has used YouTube three times to make short audio statements, setting off a media sensation in Peru as he rallies supporters and trades barbs with political foes.
The legal loophole that let Fujimori go online has unnerved the Peruvian justice minister and government lawyers are hustling to come up with legislation that adapts, for the self-broadcasting Internet age, laws that let prison authorities restrict inmates’ speech.
Like other prisoners, Fujimori is not allowed to have a computer or a mobile phone, but he does have access to a public telephone on the police base outside Lima where he is held. So he delivers tweets and recorded messages to supporters over the pay phone — and they post them online.
This has become a headache for Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s government.
In one highly publicized tweet, Fujimori said: “It would have been cheaper for Nadine [Heredia, the first lady] and Ollanta to just pardon me. I would have solved the out-of-control internal insecurity [troubles] without asking anything in return.”
Humala has refused to pardon the 75-year-old Fujimori, who in 2009 was convicted by his own country’s judiciary for crimes committed in office.
Fujimori’s supporters say he should be released for ill health, but a medical panel has rejected the claims.
“El Chino,” as Peruvians call him, has found plenty of fault with Humala, who defeated Fujimori’s conservative daughter, Keiko, in a 2011 presidential runoff.
When Humala stated before heading to the APEC summit last week that having a former president in prison was not good for Peru’s image, Fujimori struck back. In an audio posted to YouTube accompanied by photographs from his presidency, he said Peru “has an excellent reputation thanks to our having extracted it from the apocalypse in 1990.”
Fujimori staved off economic collapse after taking office that year, but he fled Peru in disgrace a decade later amid a corruption scandal.
The YouTube comments were uploaded on Sept. 19, the day Fujimori began his social media offensive in earnest, even though he has had a Facebook account since July.
Peruvian prisons chief Jose Perez said there is nothing he can do about Fujimori’s social media use.
“The first problem is that Fujimori doesn’t directly manage his Facebook and Twitter accounts. So how can one restrict something he doesn’t manage?” he asked.
One infamous inmate who has been tweeting via third parties is Jodi Arias, a 33-year-old woman convicted in Arizona of killing her boyfriend in a case that attracted intense media attention. She also has no access to a computer in the county jail where she awaits sentencing, but does have telephone privileges and gets visitors. Friends post for her and she tweeted regularly during her trial, making fun of the prosecutor and taking jabs at true-crime TV personality Nancy Grace.
While awaiting his sixth trial on more corruption charges, Fujimori passes his days writing his memoirs, painting and listening to opera, especially Maria Callas, his personal physician, Alejandro Aguinaga, said.
Aguinaga said the Web is therapy for Fujimori.