Press statement by Mark and Rhoda Berenson
20 June 2001
We have been in Peru for three months, attending the public phase of our daughter Lori's trial, a trial characterized by violations of due process and prejudicial actions. Today we sat in the courtroom as the Presiding Judge read the verdict and sentence. Lori has steadfastly maintained her innocence and today we watched her stand unflinching as the verdict was read. But we could sense her anguish.
As these three months in the courtroom demonstrated, there was absolutely no basis in fact for this verdict. The verdict and sentence are counter to the Peruvian Penal Code that requires insufficient evidence to result in acquittal and specifies that doubt must favor the accused. In this trial there was no evidence that Lori is guilty of the charges and she should have been judged innocent. She should have been freed.
Even before this trial began we knew that, as responsible and experienced observers worldwide uniformly recognized, a fair trial in Peru on terrorism charges in its special civilian courts under the present laws that were instituted by former President Fujimori and staffed by Fujimori appointees would not be possible. This was simply a retrial of the corrupt military proceeding of five and a half years ago. State prosecutor (Procurador), Mario Cavagnaro, participated in both proceedings and once again relied on the same coerced witnesses and evidence used by the military tribunal, particularly the testimony of Pacifico Castrellón. Five years ago Mr. Castrellón decided to cooperate with the Security Police in order to secure a reduced sentence himself and has commenced a retrial looking for another reduction in sentence.
Judge Ibazeta had already declared Lori guilty in newspaper interviews in 1999 and repeatedly made statements in the court indicating that he had already concluded she was guilty. In referring to Lori's testimony he used the phrases it is impossible to believe and it is obviously impossible to believe. He declared, you lived with all these people, you knew who they were and you had come to Peru to be the sun around which the MRTA revolved. In her questioning Judge Eliana Araujo declared, We consider you to have been the financier of the MRTA, although that was not a charge, and no evidence was introduced to support that assertion and in his questioning Judge Manrique declared that while Ms. Berenson may not have been a leader of the MRTA, she was a militant, thus concluding she was guilty of the charge before hearing from any of the other witnesses.
Judge Ibazeta started the trial with Lori behind bars in a cage, providing the world with a picture of a woman who the judge already deemed was guilty. In an April interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais, Judge Ibazeta said that the verdict will depend on whether she convinces us of her story. Contrary to the Peruvian Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights that require that the prosecutor prove guilt, Judge Ibazeta expected Lori Berenson to prove her innocence. In addition, throughout most of the trial, Judge Ibazeta was one of the finalists for the prestigious position of Ombudsman of the Peruvian government, a position voted on by members of Congress, many of whom had already declared they believe Lori Berenson to be guilty. The judge used the trial to campaign for this office.
It is unfortunate that the new democratic Peru showed the world that it is still incapable of granting a fair trial that meets even the barest minimal international standards of due process. Two weeks ago, more than a hundred scholars, writers and university professors from around the world sent a letter to the Peruvian government in which they criticized Judge Ibazeta for subjecting Lori to humiliating practices, trying to intimidate her into renouncing her ideas, convictions and personal ties. And in this trial there were more than fifty inappropriate questions about Lori's political and social beliefs.
We can only hope that the Appeals Court will look carefully at what has occurred in this trial and will reverse the verdict. Meanwhile we will continue our efforts at the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.