Lori Berenson Goes on Hunger Strike

Associated Press -- 14 January

LIMA, Peru (AP) - An American woman serving a life sentence for treason in Peru has gone on a hunger strike in protest of her conviction and imprisonment, family members said today.

Lori Berenson, a New York native and former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, was convicted by a secret military court in 1996 for helping pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebels plan a thwarted attack on Peru's Congress.

``She is frustrated. She is asking for her freedom because she was wrongfully convicted and she's innocent,'' said her father, Mark Berenson, who was reached at his New York home today.

According to a press release from the national penitentiary institute, Berenson, 30, informed prison authorities that she was beginning a hunger strike on Jan. 11. She is consuming liquids but not solid foods.

Berenson is being held in Socabaya prison, 465 miles southeast of Lima. She began her hunger strike on Monday to commemorate the fourth anniversary of her conviction, her father said.

Mr. Berenson and his wife, Rhoda, have been carrying out a campaign to free her. But President Alberto Fujimori has said she is a terrorist and will serve her full sentence in Peruvian prisons.

Berenson, who was convicted by a military court, has said she was not allowed to present evidence at her trial or to question prosecution witnesses and that the judge wore a hood.

The State Department has asked Peru to give her an open civilian trial, arguing that her summary military trial denied her due process.

In comments to reporters on Thursday, Prime Minister Alberto Bustamante, who is also the justice minister, said that a pardon for Berenson is out of the question and that she could only receive a new trial if she proves her conviction was unjust, arbitrary or not based on the facts of the case.

The government maintains that secret military proceedings with hooded judges were necessary during Peru's bloody battle with leftist rebels because civilian courts were releasing too many suspects and judges feared reprisals. The practice was abolished in 1997.

Peru's internal war against rebels reduced dramatically in intensity after the capture of top rebel leaders in 1992, but thousands of convicted rebels remain in Peru's prisons.