A Chilean Supreme Court judge ruled Wednesday that former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori should not be extradited to Peru to face charges of corruption and human rights abuses.
The decision was not final -- lawyers for Peru's government have already announced that they plan to file an appeal to a Supreme Court panel. But the announcement provoked strong reactions in Peru, where Fujimori's 1990-2000 presidency still arouses passions among critics and supporters alike.
Peru's government accuses Fujimori of embezzlement, kidnapping and numerous human rights violations during his government's fight against Shining Path rebels. According to the extradition request, Fujimori oversaw military death squads that killed 25 people in two mass murders. He has denied all the charges.
"I am very bitter," said Raida Condor, whose son was one of nine students killed in 1992 at the La Cantuta teacher's college in Lima. "I am no longer sure that there can ever be justice. All these years, 15 years of fighting, and they tell us that he is not coming back to stand trial."
After his government collapsed in scandal in 2000, Fujimori fled to Japan, the country of his parents' birth. The government there recognized him as a Japanese citizen and protected him from extradition.
Fujimori attempted to return to Peru in 2005 to run for president again, but he was arrested in Chile while en route. Peruvian officials formally requested his extradition two months later.
A University of Lima poll released Wednesday indicated that two-thirds of Peruvians "do not sympathize" with Fujimori. But those who do -- including legislators who call themselves the Fujimori caucus in Peru's Congress -- quietly celebrated the setback to an extradition attempt that they labeled "political persecution."
"I have spoken to the president [Fujimori], and we are very calm," said Rep. Alejandro Aguinaga, spokesman for the caucus and a health minister under Fujimori. "We are taking the process one day at a time, but this is certainly an important moment for us and for justice after years of persecution."
Fujimori, 68, who remains under house arrest in Chile, recently announced plans to run for a Senate seat in Japan. In an election scheduled for this month, he is listed as a candidate of the New People's Party, a small conservative opposition group.
Fujimori's critics have alleged that this candidacy is an attempt to avoid potential extradition by attaining parliamentary immunity in Japan. But Aguinaga said Fujimori decided to run only because he has been banned from political office in Peru until 2011.
Human rights groups quickly expressed disappointment with Wednesday's ruling but said they remain confident of a reversal.
Maria McFarland, a senior researcher for the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch and author of a 2005 report that detailed Fujimori's alleged abuses, said the judge ignored key evidence. This, she said, included videotaped testimony that he approved the actions of the death squads and ordered the illegal payment of $15 million to ex-spy chief Vladimir Montesinos.
"I think that when this goes to the criminal chamber of the Supreme Court -- if they look at all the evidence -- they'll reach a completely different decision," McFarland said.