Peruvian court upholds 18-month pre-trial detention for Castillo

Ex-president Pedro Castillo has denounced his arrest as ‘political revenge’, while deadly protests continue to rock Peru.

Relatives and friends carry the coffin of a person killed during the ongoing protests in Peru [Miguel Gutierrez Chero/Reuters]

Peru’s highest court has upheld a decision to hold former President Pedro Castillo in pre-trial detention for 18 months as he is investigated on charges of rebellion.

The appeals chamber of Peru’s Supreme Court announced the decision on Thursday as the country continues to face unrest over the impeachment and removal of the former president who attempted to illegally dissolve Congress earlier this month.

Castillo denied committing the crimes of rebellion and conspiracy in a hearing on Wednesday, stating that his pre-trial detention had “only served to polarise our country”. The legal process, he added, was “nothing more than political revenge”.

Widespread protests broke out across Peru after Castillo was arrested following what many described as a coup attempt. On December 7, as Peru’s Congress met to hold an impeachment vote, Castillo announced that he would instead rule by decree.

In the wake of Castillo’s announcement, parliamentarians responded overwhelmingly in favour of impeachment. Dina Boluarte, Castillo’s former vice president, was sworn in as Peru’s first female president.

She has since pushed for new elections to deescalate the protests, which have called for her resignation and the dissolution of Congress, as well as for Castillo’s release.

On Thursday, Boluarte also announced she would support investigations into deaths associated with the protests, offering “all the resources possible” to the prosecutor’s office. Clashes with police and military have left an estimated 22 people dead. Six others have died as a result of street blockades.

“We are not going to allow impunity,” Boluarte said in a press conference. “They [the deaths] need to be investigated.”

Human rights groups have accused government forces of using firearms on protesters, and a Reuters investigation found that several protesters were shot dead in the city of Ayacucho. The government has said protesters have used weapons and homemade explosives.

Peru has been under a 30-day national state of emergency since December 14, which grants security forces special powers. It also limits certain constitutional rights such as the freedoms of assembly and movement.

Castillo’s supporters believe the former president’s removal was part of a plot by the country’s ruling elite to punish him. Castillo, a former school teacher from the rural town of Puña, was a dark-horse candidate who unexpectedly won the presidency in July 2021.

The governments of Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia – all run by leftist leaders – have expressed solidarity with Castillo.

Latin America has a long history of removing democratically-elected leftist politicians from power, often through violent or anti-democratic means, but Boluarte said other countries had “wrongfully interpreted” what happened to Castillo.

“What did happen was a breakdown of the constitutional order by [Castillo] wanting to carry out a coup d’etat,” Boluarte said, pushing back against criticism.

Relations between Peru and Mexico have been strained by the ordeal, with Mexico’s leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador offering Castillo and his family asylum.

Peru’s foreign ministry responded by declaring Mexico’s envoy to Peru “persona non grata” and ordering him out of the country last week.

Over social media, the foreign ministry condemned “repeated statements from the highest authorities of that country [Mexico] regarding the political situation in Peru”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies