13 December 2022

Peru judge denies ousted leader Pedro Castillo’s jail appeal

13 December 2022

A judge ordered ousted Peruvian President Pedro Castillo to remain in custody on Tuesday, denying his appeal as authorities build a rebellion case against him.

Supreme Court Judge Cesar San Martin Castro’s decision could further inflame violent protests across the country, where people have been demanding Mr Castillo’s freedom, the resignation of his successor and the immediate scheduling of general elections to pick a new president and replace all members of Congress.

Mr Castillo’s nationally televised announcement on Wednesday that he had dissolved the Congress by presidential decree was “not a mere act of speech, but the concrete expression of a will to alter the constitutional system and the configuration of public powers,” the judge said.

Later this week, prosecutors plan to seek Mr Castillo’s continued detention for up to three years.

Mr Castillo claimed during his hearing earlier on Tuesday that he is being “unjustly and arbitrarily detained” and thanked his supporters for their “effort and fight” since he was taken into custody.

The judge said evidence suggests Mr Castillo was intercepted as he tried to reach the Mexican embassy to seek asylum. He was taken into custody shortly after he was ousted when he sought to dissolve Congress ahead of an impeachment vote.

“I will never renounce or abandon this popular cause that has brought me here,” Mr Castillo said. Then, in apparent reference to the violent protests over his ousting, he urged the national police and armed forces to “lay down their arms and stop killing this people thirsty for justice.”

The protests have been particularly violent outside Peru’s capital, Lima. The Ombudsman’s Office of Peru reported on Monday that seven people had died since the demonstrations began Wednesday, including five on Monday.

All seven happened in rural, impoverished communities — strongholds for Mr Castillo.

Four of the seven deaths occurred in Andahuaylas, a remote rural Andean community where the poor have struggled for years and where voters overwhelmingly supported Mr Castillo during last year’s run-off election, which he won by 44,000 votes.

Many businesses there remained closed on Tuesday, with streets blocked by burned tyres, rocks and tree branches.

Shoe store owner Vilma Zuniga put up a sign that read “Congress is the worst virus. Out with Dina Boluarte,” referring to Mr Castillo’s successor.

Attorney Ronaldo Atencio, speaking for Mr Castillo’s legal team, argued that he did not raise weapons or organise people capable of overturning the existing government, as Peruvian law requires for someone to be charged with rebellion.

He also said Mr Castillo does not present a flight risk, and never sought asylum from Mexico, as confirmed by the Mexican ambassador.

Ms Boluarte, Mr Castillo’s running mate and vice president, was swiftly sworn in on Wednesday after Congress dismissed Mr Castillo for “permanent moral incapacity.”

On Monday, she acceded in part to protesters’ demands, announcing in a nationally televised address that she would send Congress a proposal to move up elections to April 2024. She had previously asserted that she aimed to remain president for the remaining three and a half years of her predecessor’s term.

In the streets of Lima, officers have doused protesters with tear gas and repeatedly beat them. Outside the capital, demonstrators burned police stations, took over an airstrip used by the armed forces and invaded the runway of an international airport favoured by tourists and hiking enthusiasts.

The national police reported that 130 officers have been injured in clashes with demonstrators, according to state media.

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