Ramsey Clark's Call for Lori's Release
Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark Calls for Immediate Release of Young American Pacifist, Human Rights Activist, Journalist Held in Peru
On November 30, 1995, Lori Helene Berenson, a 26 year old New York pacifist, human rights activist and free-lance journalist was arrested while riding alone on a public bus in Lima, Perú.
She was held essentially incommunicado by the notorious Peruvian "DINCOTE" police and interrogated relentlessly for a week. During the interrogation she was denied legal counsel. She received no factual statement of charges against her. She was denied the right to remain silent, the presumption of innocence, or a decent respect for her physical and mental health. An intensive effort was made to force her to confess to collaborating with terrorists through physical exhaustion, false claims of evidence and accusations against her and psychological violence. Without being charged with any specific acts that she could admit or deny, she was accused of "treason", of giving vague answers, and she was forced to sign a written declaration without the opportunity to understand its content or consult with a Peruvian lawyer or other legal advisor to learn of her rights.
Lori's family, with the assistance of the U.S. Embassy, was finally able to retain a Peruvian lawyer to represent her. She was overjoyed that he is a full-blooded Indian. About 45% of the population of Perú is Indian, but few have attained professional status. The Peruvian government has now asserted her lawyer is a "terrorist".
Despite consistent condemnations by foreign governments, including the U.S., and human rights organizations, Lori Berenson is being accused of "treason" before a masked military court. She has been denied all meaningful consultation. Neither she nor her lawyer has been permitted to see her case file. The use of "faceless" military courts in Perú to try civilian prisoners is a violation of international law and has been universally condemned. The "treason" charge against an American citizen in a Peruvian court is itself a legal absurdity. At the conclusion of this military proceeding she faces an arbitrary sentence up to life imprisonment.
President Fujimori first reported Lori's arrest and has repeatedly referred to her on national television.
Lori Berenson has consistently maintained her innocence. She has been in Perú and elsewhere in Central and South America over a period of several years to study culture, language and music, to support human rights and relief groups working with the poor, and to write for various publications. Ms. Berenson is particularly interested in third world poverty, indigenous people, women's issues, human rights, culture and music. She works and reports on these issues.
The Fujimori government opposes her presence in Perú because she exposes its repression and gives moral support to millions of Peruvians who suffer poverty and violence. The governments initial claims that Lori falsified press credentials and rented a house allegedly occupied by terrorists have been proven false. It has conceded she was not involved in violent acts. Its bare allegation she participated in planning violent acts again exposes the absence of any evidence that she committed, or was expected to commit any violent act.
In its annual report for 1995, Amnesty International headlined the Perú section "At least 4,000 political prisoners awaited trial or were tried under judicial procedures which continued to fall far short of international standards. Torture of prisoners continued to be widely reported. The security forces were reported to have extrajudicially executed 37 people."
One of her family's legal advisors, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, after reviewing the proceedings, stated "The military courts of Perú violate every principle of due process of law. They are not concerned with truth, or justice, but are an instrument of repression.
"Their proceedings are secret. Prosecutors and judges wear masks and are anonymous and 'faceless'. The accused are terrorized, presumed guilty, forced to testify, not informed of the charges against them, not able to meaningfully cross examine witnesses against them, and not empowered to summon witnesses or produce evidence for their defense. There is no real trial at all, much less a fair trial. The military tribunals are simply war by other means. They convict whoever they choose to convict."
Clark urged all Americans who care about peace, freedom and justice to contact the White House, the State Department and their Congressional representatives and demand that Lori Berenson be immediately released.