- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Peruvian officials for the first time say new evidence about Lori Berenson’s role in a revolutionary Marxist group is prompting them to consider a new trial for the American leftist, who has spent four years of a life sentence in Andean jails.
The comments come as a lawyer for Berenson prepares to file legal documents in Lima this week seeking a new trial with hope of a reduced sentence or even winning her release for time served.
“It is very sensitive, but we are looking at the law,” a Peruvian government official said Monday. “If new evidence is introduced, it is possible that she could get a new trial.”
Berenson, a former student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was convicted in January 1996 by a hooded judge in a Peruvian military court for being a leader in the Revolutionary Movement of Tupac Amaru (MRTA).
The Maoist group is best known for the Christmas 1996 takeover of the Japanese Embassy in Lima, in which 72 hostages were held for 126 days.
Clinton administration officials raised the case of Berenson, now 30, during a visit this week by Alberto Bustamante, Peru’s prime minister and justice minister, a State Department official said yesterday.
Mr. Bustamante’s portfolios make him responsible for the Berenson case, but several sources said civilian authorities have minimal sway over Peru’s military courts.
A previous prime minister, Javier Valle Riestra, resigned in 1998 after demanding Berenson’s release and complaining that the military justice system held too much power.
“We continue to work with the government of Peru to obtain a fair civilian trail [for Berenson],” said a State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Mr. Bustamante held meetings Monday with White House officials and yesterday with the State Department’s top Latin America diplomat, Peter Romero.
Asked at a luncheon with reporters and editors at The Washington Times on Monday if there were any chance of a new trial for Berenson, Mr. Bustamante would not comment.
However, others in his entourage said that there are provisions in Peruvian law to introduce “new evidence” if someone has been wrongly convicted. If the military court accepts the new evidence, Berenson could get a trial before Peru’s Council of Supreme Military Justice, the equivalent of Peru’s supreme court of military justice.
Yesterday, Berenson’s father, Mark Berenson, said by telephone from New York that his daughter’s lawyer in Lima is preparing to submit an official document requesting that she be given a new trial.
“Witnesses have come forward and are prepared to testify that Lori was not a leader [of MRTA]. She wasn’t even a member,” said Mr. Berenson yesterday. “She has serious leftist social views, but being an ideological sympathizer does not mean she was involved with their methodology. She abhors violence.”
At the time of her arrest, Berenson had been in Peru just nine months. To be eligible for a life sentence, according to Peruvian law, she had to be either a guerrilla leader or dealing in firearms.
“She was not dealing arms and the idea that a 25-year-old woman, after nine months in the country, could rise to become a leader in Peru’s macho society is preposterous,” said her father. “Anyone who knows Lori knows she would not be involved in violence.”
In the last four years, Berenson has been held in two prisons. For three years, she was held at the Yamamayo maximum security prison 12,000 feet above sea level, with other leftist political prisoners. In October 1998, she was moved, because of circulation, stomach and respiratory problems, to Socabaya, at 7,600 feet, near the southern city of Arequipa, where she is in virtual isolation.
“For 23 hours a days she is in a dark cell. For an hour a day she has yard time with two or three other prisoners,” said Gail Taylor, national organizer of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson, which runs the Free Lori Berenson Web page (www.freelori.org).
She said Berenson’s hands are purple because of her circulation problems and that she spends her days reading Isabelle Allende novels, singing Indian songs and knitting when her swollen hands permit.
Miss Taylor said that she knows nothing about legal moves to free Berenson, and that her organization is petitioning to have her released on “humanitarian grounds.”
She said a congressional resolution offered in July by Rep. Maxine Waters, California Democrat, requesting the Peruvian government give Berenson a fair trial failed, but won 180 votes.
The Berenson case is sensitive in Peru for a number of reasons. At the time of her arrest and conviction, Peru was still reeling from the trauma of two brutally violent guerrilla movements Shining Path and the lesser-known Tupac Amaru which had nearly destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, killing more than 30,000 people in the 1980s.
While the case is something of an albatross in U.S.-Peruvian relations, and some wish they could simply dispense with the problem, hard-line supporters of Peru’s military have been adamant that Berenson face the full force of Peruvian law.
Human rights organizations, which call for Berenson to be released on humanitarian grounds or to be retried in a civilian court, contend that any trial in Peru’s military courts is by definition unfair.

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